Globalization has made it increasingly important to be able to comprehend and assess the risk impact of events occurring in the international business environment. It is important that multinational corporations take into consideration “cultural risks” that can lead to ineffectiveness. With United States multinational corporations deriving 43% of their revenue from overseas and international investment passing the $800 billion mark, (Thiederman, 2003) knowing how to relate effectively across cultural lines has become a necessary skill for success. American multinational corporations are facing conflicting issues as they staff their international divisions. An increasing number of managers are women and many wish to attain greater status in the firm by accepting positions that will offer visibility and challenge. This interest is legally protected under the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. However, multinational corporations must still deal with local cultural mores, customs and laws. Sometimes these local traditions differ from, or can be in absolute contrast to, American practices. To reconcile these facts while meeting staffing requirements can only add to the challenges faced by multinational corporations.
In order to understand female expatriates’ reception in global business, it is necessary to understand the various cultures view of women. Millions of women live in cultures where centuries of social and religious laws, customs and traditions have established almost insurmountable barriers to education, jobs, and healthcare, as well as depriving women of their political and civil rights. American women traveling on business need to understand the situation of women in other cultures. It is often these cultural and traditional biases that American expatriates will face when conducting business in foreign countries. In their 1994 review of 21 countries spanning four continents, Researchers Nancy Adler and Dafna Izraeli report, due to changes in societal patterns, there have been significant increases in women in management in the world. Despite these advances, they also found that in most countries men continue to control the economic and political power and to dominate in professional management roles (Adler, 1994). An article in Re:locate Magazine (2007) reported that just under 17% of expatriates are female. This is an increase from Nancy Adler’s study (1984) where 3% were female. There is no doubt that women have made progress into the male-dominated expatriate world. However, the consulting firm The Grant Thornton International study showed that, in terms of gender balance, in fact, the world’s largest economies are not keeping up with the rest of the world; only 16% of senior executive roles in the Group of Seven (the world’s seven largest economies) were held by women, compared with a global average of 20% (O’Donnell, 2011). An American working overseas for a United States corporation enjoys the same equal employment opportunity protection as an American working within the United States. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, however, does not apply to foreign operations that are not owned or controlled by an American employer. The overseas extension of civil rights protection is not universal or automatic. A corporation is not required to comply with title VII if compliance would cause the company to violate the law of the host country. For example, if a United States corporation has an operation in a foreign country that has statutes prohibiting the employment of women in management positions, Title VII would not apply (Feltes, Robinson, Fink, 1993). The company would be expected to follow the law of the host country, and, thus, could not be liable for sex discrimination.
Another issue for female expatriates arises when local culture creates gender barriers that are not directly stated as national law. In such instances, Title VII would ensure the female expatriate to be eligible for the position even though such an assignment was contrary to the host country’s culture. The result could cause a decline of company and host country relations. This would be most probable if transferring United States equal employment philosophies is viewed as a form of “cultural imperialism” by the host country (Feltes et al., 1993).
It is only practical for firms and women seeking expatriate assignment to investigate the reality of the foreign work environment for a female manager. A realistic assessment of the environment means that the expatriate can be appropriately prepared, and the firm can provide the needed support to allow for success. For example, if a woman will not be admitted to clubs where business is often conducted, she will need to develop alternative venues for making business contacts, and the firm should provide the necessary funding and contacts to accomplish this. The lack of training for personnel on expatriate assignments has been emphasized by many researchers as a problem common to most firms. Another intervention that is needed is mentoring. In a study of successful professional women in the Americas found that, across all countries in the study, mentoring was a common experience for successful women. An overwhelming proportion of the successful women studied had been mentees (Linehan & Scullion, 2008). Establishing the woman’s credibility is paramount. Tracey Wilen, in her article “Women Establishing Credibility in International Business,” lists pointers for establishing credibility:
· Be Visible. Attend and host meetings between your company and your international counterparts.
· Introductions are important, particularly for women. . . .Have yourself introduced by a higher-ranking person in your company who already knows the people with whom you will be dealing.
· Make sure your business card indicates a distinctive title such as “Manager” or “Director.”
· If someone appears confused about your name and rank, offer him another business card. This is a subtle way of reinforcing your title and ensuring acknowledgment of your participation as an active member at the meeting.
· Women should lead business discussions where possible.
· A female team leader may experience a problem establishing her credibility unless team members defer to her as the authority figure on the team. American men need to be aware that their tendency to jump in and answer questions, especially when a woman is speaking, undermines her authority and the team’s effectiveness.
· Be professional. Present yourself in a sincere, confident, professional manner, both in appearance and speech, to create a good first impression. Do not come on too strong, but don’t defer when it is appropriate for you to respond. Deferring to age and position is, however, always acceptable for both sexes.
· Be aware of women’s roles in other countries. If you understand where women are in their own corporate environment, it will give you insight into how the culture may perceive you. (Wilen, 2011)
In addition, establishing women’s networking groups will provide an excellent opportunity for women to offer support to other women in their companies. Personal networking can influence both the social and business range of international positions.
Some multinational corporations continue to fear that women might not be successful on an overseas assignment and that foreign cultures’ prejudices against them will cause them to be ineffective. Saskia Meckman, in her article “Making the Most of Your Assignment,” reported when multinational corporations promote expatriate women as their best qualified candidate for the job, countries that do not allow women in management positions will begin to take women expatriates more seriously. Strong and continued support from senior management is critical. Senior management should present women as an expert in the field or a valuable resource. This effort will help to appease the minds of host nationals (Meckman, 2002). Adler (1994) found that expatriates actually reported numerous benefits of being female. They described the advantage of being highly visible. Both foreign and local clients were curious about them, wanted to meet them, and remembered them after the first encounter. Some expatriates reported foreigners viewed them first as representative of a company, second as a citizen from where they originate, and last as women. Research by Sinangil and Ones (2003), surveying expatriates currently working in Turkey, addressed the concern whether female expatriates can be successful in a cultural environment that may be perceived to be unfriendly to females by Western standards. They concluded that men and women expatriates on average were rated quite similarly in terms of their job performance and that employing more women in the international workforce would enhance the quality of workforce diversity (Hutchings, Metcalfe, Cooper, 2010). “Foreign businessmen inevitably recognize the authority of expatriate women,” said Dianna Last of the American Graduate School of International Management. “We are accepted because our company has given us the power and position, and foreigners put aside the fact that we happen to be women. We are, in effect, treated like the third sex” (Reuters News Agency, 1999). Ms. Last recalled a meeting at which Japanese officials initially addressed their questions only to male executives of a team she headed, “until they realized if they continued it would take months to get the work done instead of a few weeks, so they began talking directly to me”(Reuters News Agency, 1999). In fact, Nancy Adler’s research in 1984 is still relevant. She stated the assumption by multinational corporations that expatriate women would not be allowed to succeed as managers in those countries where the female is not allowed to participate, was incorrect. “Expatriate women are not seen as local women. The norms which may apply to local women are not generally applied to foreign women. This is especially true in cases in which the women are visually distinct from the local population” (Adler, 1984).
It is obvious the differences in culture between groups need to be identified and consciously addressed. If left unattended, they form unnecessary risks to the success of the corporation. It is critical that firms involved in international business take into consideration “cultural risks” which, if not consciously recognized, can lead to ineffectiveness. Women preparing for overseas positions face a precarious situation, more so than their male counterpart, because of the traditional gender barriers they face in countries outside of the United States. A corporation should sponsor reality training for managers who will be stationed abroad. The training should include culture, values, and traditions of the host country and its people and how these facts may affect the manager. Preparation will mitigate barriers that expatriate women face. Power structures do not change of their own accord. Women, in coordination with the corporate leadership initiatives, must continue to strive for parity and balance in the work force. The woman expatriate has been successful and will continue to be successful, even in the countries that present “cultural risks.”
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