Allison Dembeck
Vice President of Education and Labor Advocacy, Government Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Published

December 22, 2022

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Women Taking the Lead (WTTL) program is focused on showcasing top executive women, connecting them with a network of allies who will champion their work, and providing these leaders with professional growth opportunities to drive change in C-Suites, boardrooms, and congressional and corner offices in DC and throughout the country.

Each month Women Taking the Lead highlights a female leader within the U.S. Chamber membership to showcase how women are currently leading in all areas of the business community.  In December, we are highlighting the importance of women in business and trade in a conversation with Penny Naas, President for International Public Affairs and Sustainability for UPS.  Read more about Penny in her own words below.

With the winter holidays on many of our minds, there is a lot of shopping and shipping happening.  Tell me about UPS and the work you’re doing to achieve economic equality and empower women-owned businesses around the world.

UPS has a clear understanding about the changing dynamics that trade and e-commerce bring to small businesses. We also saw a gap in the market, in that women were starting businesses at a faster rate but expanding to new markets and exporting at a disproportionately lower rate. 

When we launched the Women Exporter Program in 2018 to help enable women entrepreneurship, we focused on three areas: capacity building, access to markets, and regulatory improvement. As of 2021, we have trained over 35,000 women and small business owners around the globe. The training is allowing more women-owned and small businesses to grow, be part of trade, and make a difference in their local economy. We are moving the world forward by delivering what matters.

Tell me about your role at UPS and what brought you to the company?

At UPS, I lead two teams doing separate but complementary work: the team working on our Sustainability (ESG) efforts; and the government affairs team that works with governments around the world to educate and advocate. I love my job, as I get to make a difference every day. 

I joined UPS for two reasons – the people are amazing, and I get to work on issues that I believe really matter.  Throughout my career, I have worked for companies who focus on connecting the world, while also preserving the world.  I believe in the power of markets and trade – I believe that our ability to exchange and trade globally is about people being able to fulfill their individual destinies. Governments need to support citizens and provide the frameworks to ensure that the benefits of trade are shared equally in their societies and that we aren’t leaving anyone behind.    

You’re also on the advisory board of the Center for Inclusive Trade and Development (CITD) advisory board and on the World Economic Forum (WEF) Future Council, which is dedicated to promoting innovative and futuristic thinking. Can you share a little more about your work with both?

Both of these organizations, and another I’m involved with called Tradeexperettes, are communities of people working to help advance a new vision for international trade. Everyone in these groups is very committed to the importance of international trade but brings diverse perspectives to look at the issues in new, innovative and unique ways.  Our goal is to help make the world better for the next generation and looking at how trade can help. Each group is doing interesting and exciting work and I am pleased to be a small part of their efforts.    

What opportunities for women-owned businesses and the work UPS is doing has you most excited?

Moving into 2023, we are building on our efforts and are excited about our approach – gathering key data about women entrepreneurs and leveraging our logistics knowledge and partnerships to fill in the gaps for capacity building and policy recommendations. We are impacting women-owned businesses as we work with countries and entrepreneurs on an individual basis. I get excited when I speak to businesses we have helped – they are each so inspiring and amazing in what they do.  

Are there particular challenges that women face as entrepreneurs looking to expand internationally?

Through our experiences and research, we have discovered four main challenges affecting women entrepreneurs from being involved in trade. A knowledge gap highlights the need to continue educating women entrepreneurs on how to export and how to get engaged in e-commerce. The cost of logistics is also a challenge for all SMBs, particularly women. Regulatory complexity is a key challenge, particularly because the rules around importing and exporting vary from country-to-country. Additionally, the informality of SMBs continues to be a big challenge for women entrepreneurs, especially in less developed countries. This presents more challenges for access to finance, access to digital infrastructure, and access to government support.

How would you recommend others get started with policies that help women-business owners—are there particular resources you’ve found helpful?

We have discovered it takes a strong and supportive community to implement change and help women business owners. We recently presented to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Informal Working Group – explaining that if you bring private sector, government and multilateral organizations together, you can not only identify the areas of need, but also provide the right training to impact lives. I would recommend visiting the International Trade Centre (ITC) SheTrades website to read about worldwide efforts, and also read policy papers that have been published to understand recommendations that can be implemented. 

What do the women in trade issues mean to you?

It means many things, and I know even on my team we have different perspectives. For example, our policy team has an opportunity to influence the conversation of trade agreements and supply chain resiliency to take into consideration the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs that may be unique.  It can also mean advocating for the simplification of processes, so that when women entrepreneurs would like to enter the world of trade, they are able to do it in a more simplified way. And it can also mean identifying trade regulations that, although when written were thought as gender neutral, when implemented at the local level create unintended impediments for women entrepreneurs.

What does business mean to you?

Business means a way to accomplishing growth sustainably and connecting the communities and economies we serve all while delivering what matters.

What motivates you to wake up and go to work? / What is your biggest inspiration?

My team and my colleagues. I work with amazing, dedicated professionals each day. They teach me new things, and the positive impact we have on our customers, employees, and communities inspires me every day. 

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, is there one or two – work/leadership-related or not – you would recommend?

I love Brene Brown and Freakonomics podcasts.  Trade Talks is another great one I listen to each week.    

Do you have a favorite women-owned business/entrepreneur? If so, what business is it and why?

That’s like asking which of my children I love best – I love them all!  I did recently get a box of Vosges Chocolates, which were a fantastic treat. I also admire Dolly Parton – legendary talent, successful entrepreneur, impactful philanthropist, and authentically herself in all she does.      

About the authors

Allison Dembeck

Allison Dembeck

Vice President of Education and Labor Advocacy, Government Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Allison L. Dembeck is vice president of education and labor advocacy in the Government Affairs Division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, focusing on education, labor, and workforce development issues.

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