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The Female Factor In International Negotiations

The Female Factor In International Negotiations

Sheida Hodge


"I've come a long way in this country; will I have to start all over again when I do business overseas?" Many women are faced with this question when they tackle their first international negotiating assignment. Since higher-level corporate positions in male-dominated cultures such as those in Asia, Latin American and the Middle East are held almost exclusively by men, women often fear they will not be taken seriously or able to forcefully represent their company's position. Corporate management often has similar fears. One American businessman told me that women could be a "jinx" during negotiations overseas.

These fears are not born out by the experience of women negotiating overseas. If women establish their competence, experience and authority, they will be taken seriously and treated professionally by foreign executives. In fact, Lorna Larson—Paugh, a Vice President for the Asia Region of Allergan, Inc., claims that being an American woman is an advantage since it inspires "awe" in her Asian counterparts. They automatically assume that she must have special skills and authority to be sent to negotiate overseas. In order for women to be successful in international business negotiations, both men and women need to be educated about how to deal with foreign business cultures. The secret of women's success negotiating internationally is contained in the three angles of the "Triple A Triangle" shown below.

Triple A Triangle
About five years ago, Dee S. Johnson, C.P.M., vice president of Purchasing for O'Sulivan Corporation in Winchester, Virginia, went on a negotiating trip to Tokyo. Thinking the Japanese prefer dealing with men, she arranged for her male associate to be the main spokesman. "I felt it would be culturally correct," Johnston says. Following Japanese custom, Johnston and her associate presented their business cards to the Japanese at the beginning of the meeting. "They saw "Vice President" on my card and "Manager" on his. All of the conversation went through me," Johnston says. "They were not looking at male versus female; they were looking for authority."

Communicate your credentials up front and in writing. World Trade Magazine reports the case of Diane C. Harris, vice president- corporate development at Bausch & Lomb, Inc. Rochester, NY, whose CEO sends a letter of introduction on her behalf, "partly because I am a woman...to add credibility just in case of questions." Harris also compiles a packet that includes the company's annual report, translated business cards that define her title, and an organizational chart illustrating her hierarchical ranking.

Get the support of your male colleagues. If women are treated with respect by male colleagues from their own country, executives from the host country will follow suit. During introductions, for example, male colleagues can mention past accomplishments or special skills that women team members bring to the negotiations. Women should be careful never to let men in their group openly challenge their authority. This can lead to irreparable damage to their credibility. Sully Taylor, professor at Portland State University (OR), reports the case of a woman executive in Japan whose "U.S. male colleague, when introducing her to a new client, never fails to mention her highly successful legal work in New York and her prestigious university pedigree."

Know your stuff. There's nothing like competence to create respect. In fact, men from some cultures may be less aggressive about challenging a woman if they feel they are equally matched. Ed McGowen, and director of manufacturing for Voxel, Inc. in Laguna Hills, California, reports that he brought a tall, blond female engineer on a negotiating trip to Taiwan. "The first few days, the Taiwanese were more interested in making her feel comfortable than in listening to her professional opinion. At the first opportunity, they brought a camera and took turns having their picture taken with her. But after she was able to demonstrate her engineering know-how, they had the utmost respect for abilities, and frequently requested her presence in future negotiations." Business Week quotes Eastman Kodak executive Ira Wolf recalling his experience in China with Deborah Lehr from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative: "When we put her up against veteran Chinese negotiators, they'd think, 'Hmmm, live meat.' But it didn't take long for them to realize the appearance was deceptive." Lehr studies trade arcana lest the Chinese test her. During talks on intellectual property rights, she recalls, "I made a point of getting to know their copyright laws so I could cite them back to them."

Attitude

Scientists have long been puzzled by the case of the bumblebee. According to the laws of science, the bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly. But the bee doesn't know anything about the laws of science: it just flies and doesn't worry about it. Similarly, women who focus on the task at hand have an advantage. If they expect to succeed, they are likely to do so.

Women should maintain a positive attitude about their hosts. They should enjoy and learn about the culture of the host country. In her study of women professionals working in Japan, Dr. Taylor found that "women who perceive positive attitudes in their Japanese bosses, colleagues, and subordinates...are significantly better adjusted to working in Japan."

The successful businesswoman will carefully balance asserting herself professionally and respecting the habits and customs of the host culture. According to Betty Macknight, CPIM, CPM and Vice president of Global Procurement, Asia/Pacific & China Regions, for Lucent Technologies: "One of my Japanese colleagues paid me a very large compliment when he said that the art and balance of humility and professionalism that I had learned helped to gain me tremendous respect with the Japanese people."


Adaptability

Although small mistakes in etiquette and courtesy are usually forgiven, women should be careful about social customs that elicit strong emotional reactions if ignored. Proper dress, for example, is very important for women working abroad. Longer skirts and higher necklines are a good rule of thumb. The conservative rule also applies to sightseeing trips and entertainment outings as well: avoid bikinis, halter tops and short skirts or shorts.

After-hours business entertainment can pose interesting challenges for businesswomen. While on a trip to Korea, Judy Muth, a sales and customer service representative with Rockwell International, Newport Beach, CA, was invited with her boss and several other men to a karaoke bar where pictures of nude women were projected on the wall. Although she said that this didn't bother her, this kind of entertainment will fall by the wayside as more women participate in global business.

Entertainment is an essential part of doing business overseas, and a woman should not be intimidated by going out, even if the rest of the group is comprised of men. But she should use good judgment and intuition. If a woman feels uncomfortable with the men in the group or the kind of entertainment, she is not obligated to go.

Women also need to adapt to local norms of behavior. If they are naturally boisterous and outgoing, they should reign themselves in a bit in Asian cultures, where modest and gentle behavior is the norm. On the other hand, if they are quiet and low-key, they may need to be more demonstrative in Latin or Middle Eastern countries. Pay careful attention to eye contact and body language. Holding someone's gaze is considered frank and open here, but in some Latin American or Middle Eastern countries it might be interpreted as a sexual come-on. Many foreign businessmen are confused by the open smiles they receive from American women: what we consider friendly, they may see as an invitation to something more. If you err, it's better to do so on the side of formality.

Women have come a long way in the last few years. "Leadership qualities" are no longer viewed as an exclusively male attribute—even in countries where men are still dominant. The prevalence of education and new technologies is rapidly changing the situation of women all over the world. As John Naisbitt comments in Megatrends Asia, "the new technology is gender blind." Betty Macknight adds that, "It is my profound belief that professional and ethical business characteristics go further in negotiations than gender." If women take steps to establish their authority, adopt the proper attitude and learn to adapt to foreign cultures, they can participate as equal players anywhere in the world.

© Sheida Hodge, Used With Permission

Sheida Hodge runs her own company, Hodge International Advisors, which helps corporate executives succeed when doing business across cultures by providing them with the most relevant, practical, and up-to-date cross-cultural coaching and training. They provide proven solutions through keynote presentations, training, coaching, consulting and on-line assessments.
 
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