In Focus:  Women in International Business

Someone recently observed that while Saudi Arabia has a reputation for having a difficult business climate for female visitors, U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice seemed to be doing just fine when visiting the country.

OK, granted.  Nevertheless, conducting business is a lot harder for women in many countries than it is for men.  Two factors tend to get in the way of building and nurturing the strong business relationships that are a critical requirement for success in many countries and cultures:

• Lack of concepts for business relationship building across genders. Clear frameworks exist in all societies to determine how business relationship building is conducted among men.  How- ever, such concepts often do not apply to males and females working together.

• Traditional expectations of female roles.  Men in several cultures may still hold on to traditional views of the roles women should fill and how women should behave around men.  Lacking a framework for dealing with females who hold substantial responsibility and make important decisions, they might behave awkwardly or avoid interactions altogether.  Businesswomen often remain relative outsiders in these cultures.  It can be difficult for them to win the trust and respect of their male counterparts.

An analysis of these and other factors affecting women in inter- national business shows five different categories of countries. Here is some advice for female business travelers when visiting countries where doing business as a woman is

- extremely difficult or even impossible (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan):  Your best option may be to use a male spokesperson and act “behind the scenes.”

- very difficult, since local males may have no concept for relationship building with women (other Arab countries, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan):  Travel with male colleagues and emphasize the importance of your company and your role in it.  Appear confident and somewhat assertive, but never bold or aggressive.  You may be able to catch local males “with their guard down”, obtaining important information or gaining valuable concessions.  Try asking very direct questions or making unusual requests, but back paddle immediately if you sense that your counterpart may have been offended.  Excuse yourself from business entertainment and dinners unless you are confident that you will be welcome.  Avoid being alone with a male counterpart.

- often difficult, since local males may strongly prefer to build relationships with males only (Mexico, Latin America, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, other former Soviet republics, Philippines, China, South Korea, Taiwan, North Africa, most of Central Africa):  Emphasize the importance of your company and your role in it.  Appear confident and somewhat assertive, but never bold or aggressive.  Join your male counterparts for business meals and celebrations unless you are obviously not invited.  However, excuse yourself at the end of the meal, usually after coffee or tea has been served and/or when the men in the group are starting to consume strong liquors.  In some countries, prepare to hear remarks with strong sexual connota- tions that you may consider highly offensive.  Such comments are best ignored.  Avoid being alone with a male counterpart.

- somewhat difficult, because traditional expectations of female roles may still show significant influences (Argentina, Eastern Europe, Southern Europe, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Caribbean, Nigeria, South Africa):  Emphasize the importance of your company and your role in it.  Appear confident and somewhat assertive, but never bold or aggressive.  Join your male counterparts for social events unless these involve heavy drinking or you are obviously not invited.  Graciously accept any chivalric gestures you may receive.  Try to ignore humorous remarks and other comments that might be considered inappropriate in your own culture.

- usually not especially difficult (United States, Canada, Northern Europe, Western Europe, Central Europe, Israel, Australia, New Zealand):  Remain aware that showing too much assertiveness or competitiveness could turn both males and females against you.


As a woman, unless you happen to be the Secretary of State of a powerful nation, you may want to come prepared to deal with culture-specific expectations and practices in business situations. The ways in which you can build relationships and prove yourself as a likeable and trustworthy partner will often need to differ from how males do it.

(The above is an excerpt from an in-depth article available on our web page)
  Read the full article

Book Of The Month
Global Business Negotiations


A practical guide to negotiating business in international environments. It presents useful tools and discusses a number of case studies.

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Check out our
Negotiation Quiz!!


Web Site Of The Month
Mexico Online


A business directory listing a wealth of information across many industries and trade areas.

(click title to visit this web site)


Quote Of The Month

Among individuals as among nations, the respect to other people's rights is peace

Benito Juarez


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Workshops On April 17-19 in Richardson, TX:
Managing International Projects

This track of three all-day project management workshops
is facilitated by Dr. Sue Freedman and Lothar Katz.

Lothar Katz is the founder of Leadership Crossroads.  He has a wealth of experience in achieving productive coopera-tion across cultures and driving business success on a global scale.
A seasoned former executive of a For­tune 500 company, he regularly interacted with employees, cus­tomers, out-sourcing partners, and third parties in more than 25 countries around the world.


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Global Business Practices:
Ten Tips For Doing Business in Mexico

  • Business is often done through powerful networks of extended family, friends, and business partners. Whom you know might determine whether others want to know you.
  • Don’t underestimate your counterparts. While things may be somewhat slower than in the U.S., the old ’manana’ attitude has become rare in Mexico’s business culture.
  • Respecting everyone’s honor and personal pride is crucial. Never criticize anyone in public.
  • Punctuality is crucial with people who outrank you. However, be prepared for them to keep you waiting.
  • Mexican hierarchies tend to be formal and managers authoritarian. Never go around the chain of command.
  • Negotiations may take substantial time. Spend significant efforts to build relationships upfront.
  • Understand legal aspects well, but don’t bring a legal counsel to the negotiation table. It will likely be read as a lack of trust.
  • Mexicans like passionate bargaining and may be offended if you ’refuse to play along’.
  • Business may or may not be discussed over meals. Wait for your host to bring up the subject.
  • Be prepared for people to stand much closer to each other than in the United States.

Our newsletter is a bimonthly publication about all aspects of International and Cross-Cultural Business Management.  Past issues can be found in our  newsletter archive.

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