Women and International Business

Internet reading
Female Expatriates and the Civil Rights Act of 1991
Tips for Women Working Overseas

According to recent research by KPMG Peat Marwick, most multinational companies feel it is increasingly important to send people on international assignments but the availability of people who are will to accept global assignment is not growing at the same rapid rate.   There are two primary reasons why businesses should seriously consider sending women abroad to work:  1) it increases the number of competent candidates available for overseas assignments   2) it is might be illegal NOT to consider women as candidates for international assignments
As already demonstrated, internationally, there can be great differences in gender equality, especially in the role women take, the value placed on women, and the amount of respect shown to women. Research, however, has shown that women can work successfully in cultures where the status of women is considerably lower than in their own.

Myths (source Adler 1993)

  • Women do not want to be international managers - not true
  • based on research, there is no statistically significant difference  between men and                                                    women in their interest or desire to have an international career.

  • Companies refuse to send women abroad - true

  • Foreigners are prejudiced against women expatriate managers - not true

Halo effect- women are often viewed more favorably because foreigners think that this woman must be the best

  • women are viewed as foreigners first
  • Foreigners are used to dealing with female managers.
  • Many have been educated in the West and experience with female MBAs
  • Many have worked with women in the U.S. and Europe
  • At the end of the Bush Administration, the top three US trade jobs--trade representative, secretary of commerce and customs commissioner- were all held by women.

Legal issues
Title VII prohibits discrimination despite local customs or traditions. Even if a host country prefers not to conduct business with women, US women cannot be unfairly denied access to jobs, training, promotions, etc. in foreign countries. Only in countries where it is illegal for women to do a particular job can male be a BFOQ.

women may have advantages that men do not. Women:

  • have visibility- being remembered, memorability and curiosity,
  • are usually better at interpersonal relationships
  • have the ability to adapt because they are used to discrimination. Women have long experienced exclusion from traditional corporate networks
  • women are willing to share power and information more
  • women often feel more comfortable with ambiguity

What should companies do?
Ask women if they are interested in international assignments  (women need to be more vocal in their requests for international assignments)

Offer flexible benefits packages - especially with regard to working spouses and education of children

Give women the opportunity to succeed by supporting them
(Source Taylor and Napier 1996 )

  • do not reject female candidates because of preconceived ideas about the impossibility of success
  • train women how to respond appropriately to unwelcome advances or comments to preserve both the 'face' of the host national an the woman's sense of professional self.
  • require active, overt support from their male expatriate colleagues in establishing their professional credibility with coworkers and client
  • give women a clear title and job description to combat ambiguity about a woman's stature

What can women do to succeed abroad?
(Source Steinberg 1996 )

  • make it clear you are a foreigner since many cultures don't recognize local career-minded women (evidence shows that White women face toughest times in Australia, Germany and UK because they are physically similar to local women)
  • emphasize that you are the company's representative and make use of your rank (have business cards with rank and perhaps bring organizational charts to show your position in the company hierarchy or
  • have a third party e.g. US commercial attaché, US Bank introduce you)
  • get support from colleagues 
  • to avoid sexual harassment avoid bars, suggest restaurants, share lunch not dinner

remember, you are there to do business, not change a culture!