Tag Archives: cultural diversity

Helping women understand the cultural assumptions that drive business in foreign lands.


Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

Helping women understand the cultural assumptions that drive business in foreign lands

Both men and women can learn how to bow, kiss or shake hands effectively, but when it comes to global management, addressing deeper cultural issues is the challenge for both sexes. This challenge, however, is slightly more complicated for women than it is for men.

Most men will never have to experience flirtatious behavior or deal with sexual advances, nor will they need to defer power in a meeting, or go the extra mile to prove who they are in order to succeed while on a foreign assignment.

When I coach female global leaders, the most common question I am asked is:

Q: When I am traveling overseas on business or working on a global assignment in a foreign country, how do I handle flirtatious behavior and sexual advances?”

A: Begin by understanding machismo. Most people might think that this problem is a “women’s problem,” but it is not, it is a problem faced by both sexes, women, however, feel the negative effects of it more often than men.

In most Anglo Saxon cultures “machismo” means acting in a manly fashion so as to magnify the male role while diminishing the female role. In the other 90% of the world’s cultures, machismo has a totally different meaning. For those cultures, machismo is about female virtues, defending and protecting them VS male honor, displays of and enforcing it.

For example, in some cultures, the belief exists that whenever a man and woman find themselves alone, regardless of circumstance, they will be irresistibly drawn to one another. The man will be unable to restrain himself; the woman, unable to resist his charm. This has great implications for women when working on a foreign assignment and will determine if she works late at the office or if she’ll accept an offer to network or attend after work hour events.

The second most common question I am asked is:

Q: “How can I establish my authority when working overseas?”

A: For male leaders, the concept of authority is almost a given because they were born male, or hold titles of power. Female leaders, however, must go through a series of steps to gain the respect and admiration of others even if they hold titles of power. This involves more than understanding cultural workplace power and how to leverage it. It involves looking at the cultural attitudes and expectations of women in the society in which you are working in, so you don’t get blindsided.

In some cultures, men have a fraternity like attitude that is difficult to broach. It stems from centuries of learned behavior that women are to be respected as mothers and homemakers, not as business people.

In other cultures, women are to be seen and not heard. The idea stems from the age old concept that women should be creatures of beauty and admired for that trait. Hence, the concept of beauty pageants experienced in some cultures that is as popular to the locals as the world cup.

Establishing authority and fending off sexual overtures are only a few of the challenges and differences women experience while traveling to or living and working overseas. There are many other cultural assumptions that a woman must understand and manage in order to be respected while on a global assignment.

If you are a female working in the global arena or a leader who must develop a pool of female talent to send on global assignments I share the following:

  • Build awareness about your assumptions of the business world. Where and how do you view women in that space, are they support staff or do you see them as leaders who can hold power and delegate with authority?
  • How well do you understand the local environment in which you must lead? I’m not talking about the superficial stuff, or the how to do this or that. I’m talking about the deep levels of assumptions and expectations, the biases, the feelings towards and about women that exist in the local environment. Believe me they are there and you must become aware of them if you expect to succeed.
  • Look at the management and leadership style you hold and compare them to what you see in your local environment. How do the locals behave? Where can you improve? What do you need to change? How much or how deeply do you need to adapt in order to be successful? Are these differences acceptable to you and are they in alignment with your personality?

When it comes to the female leader, what men take for granted, women must work harder at achieving. For example, many times while attending meetings in a foreign country, it is assumed that if you are the man, then you are the one your foreign counterparts defer to, and address with the expectation that you, the male, hold authority to make decisions. However, if you are a female leader in the same situation, the local leaders will assume you have no decision making capacity. They display this behavior by looking for and addressing a male in your team. As a female leader in this situation, how do you handle it without losing your authority or worse, losing the deal altogether?

Prior to the meeting you prepare your colleagues by instructing them to defer directly to you, both verbally and with body language. This lets the other party know that you are the one in charge.

I once attended a business meeting with a male colleague. The leader we were meeting was top in the organization and from a high power distance country. He politely shook my hand, but immediately focused all negotiations and conversations towards my colleague. My colleague very diplomatically turned his attention towards me and deferred questions to me by saying, “Candida is the expert here and she is in charge of the entire program, I will defer that question to her so she can properly answer you.”

That was it; my colleague’s words, body language and actions let our potential client know that I was the person in charge, the decision maker and the expert. There was no loss of face or disrespect for anyone, the leader took the cue and understood how to proceed, he immediately pivoted the conversation towards me. My colleague listened patiently and intervened when I deferred the conversation back towards him.

In other words, at times you may need to speak through a male colleague while at other times; you can have your colleague defer the conversation towards you as is illustrated above. It all depends on the culture and the situation you are in.

Establishing authority as a female leader is not impossible; it just takes a bit of pre-planning coupled with the understanding of local behaviors, expectations and values. Even when armed with such knowledge, at times you may need to do some “on the spot adjustments.”

Knowing where to focus your attention and how to maneuver in your local environment is of utmost importance to success in the global market place, not only for men, but especially for women.

“Remember – you are a foreigner everywhere except in your own culture.” © 2018, Global Arrival, LLC




Building Culturally Intelligent Organizations


In China, companies are often asked to make sacrifices for the interest of the nation. That idea is strange for foreigners to grasp; however, you must be fully aware that if your organization decides to open operations in China, you must fully convince the government why your proposal is good for the nation, the economy and the Chinese people. You and your team will need cultural intelligence to manage entry into China as well as entry to any other foreign country, when it comes to conducting business effectively.

How Do You Go About Building a Culturally Intelligent Organization?

Below I give you a few best practices on building a Culturally Intelligent Organization that will not only educate your company, but that will also give you a return on your investment:

  1. Leadership commitment: Leaders need to demonstrate their commitment to cultural intelligence by demonstrating through their actions the global strategic vision that they follow and live by.

Questions to explore this commitment include the following points:

  • How does culture influence your business challenges? Look at your operations and ask yourself how culturally diverse are your customers, as well as the markets in which you operate in? How culturally diverse are your teams? Do you have global leaders in different parts of the world or traveling to different countries to conduct business? If so, look at your expats on long-term and short-term assignments. Lastly, look at your home based employee pool and get metrics on how engaged your employees are. Are they attached and aware of how diversity and culture affects your business? These insights will allow you to look at innovative opportunities, which will allow you to expand into new global markets.

Do not isolate cultural intelligence to a few global leaders, engage the entire organization. A truly global organization will integrate cultural intelligence across all functions as part of the strategic plan.

  1. Perform an Organizational Cultural Intelligence Audit. Conduct a cultural audit. The audit should focus on the organization as a whole, including divisions and teams, both in and out of your home country. Your audit should look to answer the following:

To what extent do the internal and external practices and marketing messages of the organization reflect a culturally intelligent approach?

What cultures represent the organization? Which ones stand out, and which ones fade into the background?

Do you have diverse cultural teams? How have you equipped them to represent themselves and their unique talents?

To what extent do your senior leaders demonstrate and promote culturally intelligent behavior?

Have you conducted studies as to how your organization hires and promotes diverse culturally intelligent individuals?

An audit can and should also be looking at your HR policies and practices, as well as input from customers and suppliers on how they view the cultural intelligence of the organization. Use these studies to organize and develop your organization into a culturally competent company.

  1. Formulate a Cultural Intelligence Strategy. After the audit, it’s time to formulate the strategy for becoming a culturally intelligent organization. As in any strategic plan, this plan should include milestones, action steps and target dates. Look deeply at the following areas to see where cultural intelligence should become a required skill:

Those who market, sell products and services to different cultural groups, both domestically and internationally.

International leaders, managers, teams and project managers should all have developed cultural intelligence.

Leaders on global assignments, both short and long-term, living abroad or right here at home, but operate globally should know how culture impacts the organization.

Employees who travel internationally or take on global projects should all be savvy when it comes to handling diversity in the workplace.

Members of virtual teams need to understand themselves and other company teams before picking up the phone to discuss any business issue.

Specialists, who you may hire help internally, including external consultants must be globally savvy and internationally competent.

Your home office staff and support service employees that interact with branches and subsidiaries in other parts of the world must be able to communicate and work effectively alongside people of different backgrounds and cultural influences.

Don’t overlook support staff – they too are part of your organization, they may answer emails, return calls, teach, interact with newcomers, greet guests, etc., if they are not culturally educated, you may find big mistakes will consume their time and the company’s budgets.

Ask job candidates to describe their cultural intelligence and explain how they would resolve specific intercultural and cross-cultural situations that may arise in the daily operations of their work that could affect your organization.

Reward culturally intelligent behavior and knowledge. When your hire or promote someone who has experience working effectively across cultures, be sure to highlight that part of their talent when you announce the hire or promotion and include culturally intelligent behavior on performance reviews.

Organizations with employees who have high cultural intelligence can expect the following outcomes:

  • An organization that effectively expands into diverse markets.
  • High-quality service for customers and clients.
  • Effective operations that work with speed and efficiency.
  • Productive assignments that get completed on time and within budget.
  • To win the war for talent, by becoming the employer of choice. Believe it not, today’s talent is looking for companies who embrace diversity and understand cultural differences. Good talent wants to expand in the global arena and be part of the global stage.
  • To have diverse team effectiveness and synergy within and outside of the organization.
  • To become profitable while cutting back on expenses caused by serious cultural mishaps.

“Remember – you are a foreigner everywhere except in your own culture.” © 2017, Global Arrival, LLC


Heaven and Hell



Below I tell a story of a mind-bending mystery from the world of folklore, see if you could solve it on your own, if you struggle, reach out to me for the answer:


People are always wishing. But once in China a man got his wish, which was to see the difference between heaven and hell before he died.

When he visited hell, he saw tables crowded with delicious food, but everyone was hungry and angry. They had food, but were forced to sit several feet from the table and use chopsticks three feet long that made it impossible to get any food into their mouths.

When the man saw heaven, he was very surprised for it looked the same, big tables of delicious food. People were forced to sit several feet from the table and use three-foot long chopsticks that made it impossible to get any food into their mouths. It was exactly like hell, but in heaven the people were well fed and happy.