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In this episode, Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s lead negotiator in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and current Deputy Ambassador to the United States, discusses her career in the federal government, the importance of mentors and the need to promote more women in trade globally. Deputy Ambassador Hillman is one of two women to work on the TPP and the first Canadian woman to negotiate a broad multi-lateral international agreement.

Kirsten Hillman never envision herself as Canada’s trade negotiator. She began her career as a lawyer working in the private sector, in which she found herself enjoying files and cases that involved public policy. Fortunate enough to have a mentor that “told me to follow my heart,” she then decided to work in the federal government. She spent time in the Department of Justice and worked at the Canadian embassy in Geneva. When she returned to Ottawa she was named Canada’s chief negotiator for the TPP.

As a woman at the table, there are advantages and disadvantages. According to Hillman, women can have unexpected qualities that open doors to conversation. Being a woman can also be an “additional hurdle”, said Hillman, because “it can take longer to build trust with people.”

Hillman highlighted Canada’s recent focus on the impact trade policy has on women. Hillman says that a strong evidence base is “essential” when discussing this topic: “If your government is asking you, ‘how does this impact women?’ and they want to base some of their policy decisions on those facts, then you have to have solid, reliable, empirical data to back that up,” said Hillman.

Hillman hopes to see more women involved with international trade in the future. “We need to have visible women’s leadership,” she said. “Women need to look to women in these roles.”

Hillman says she realizes many young girls probably don’t want to be a trade negotiator, but women in college might. She says that she hopes these women see that, “this is a vibrant, important current area of public policy that is impacting our world, and [want] to be part of it.”

Her advice for these emerging leaders? Find an area that speaks to you, “believe in what you have to offer,” and recognize the advantage of being a woman – that you can chart your own path.

Learn more about Deputy Ambassador Kirsten Hillman here.