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
- 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
- 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.