Women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men and becoming a major major force both in the traditional and the new global e-business marketplace. Even though the business world demands that we leave a lot of unworkable behaviors and attitudes behind, the emotional sensitivity and the capacity for human connectedness usually attributed to women can be very useful in business negotiations.
Mind you, we're talking about calm compassion and friendly good will here, not out-of-control weeping! Women who run the world are creative, intuitive, playful and affectionate -- but they know that only the ability to stick to a complex business agenda and never deviate will win their colleagues' confidence and respect. With this important precaution, let's have a look at the interpersonal habits that women have traditionally been encouraged to cultivate and how absolutely indispensable they are in international business:
- We are more attentive and supportive toward others. We are socialized to give care and support to the people close to us (primarily husbands, lovers and children), and we often extend this caretaking impulse to people outside our family circle. It can serve you well in foreign business, too. You wouldn't want to upset or offend a foreign associate, but how do you know what offends? All you can do is be gentle, gracious and respectful, and let them guide you. When they see that you are committed to their comfort and happiness, they're likely to forgive your minor blunders and keep negotiations moving forward.
- We study people, "read" their behavior and make judgments. We're concerned about why people do and say what they do. Men don't always notice. Women do because we want to act effectively in the interpersonal world. We've developed an instinct for taking accurate readings in a hurry, and acting accordingly. Trust that instinct. Where language and cultural barriers hinder communications, it might be all you have. Don't let anyone disparage your impressions because you can't produce empirical proof. They're based on a lifetime's experience, and that's all the proof you need. Women who run the world let their instincts help them chart leadership directions that can leave their male counterparts far behind.
- We have enormous patience and capacity for forgiveness. The international business arena belongs to people who can give others the benefit of the doubt and let misunderstandings slide. Frustration, discomfort and embarrassing social gaffes are the rule rather than the exception when you're conducting a complex transaction in a strange environment. Women who run the world stand fast through good and bad times, and ultimately bring out the best in their foreign colleagues.
- It's always been our job to know about etiquette and appropriate social behavior. Understanding foreign cultures, customs and protocol is absolutely essential if you want to succeed overseas. You can't afford not to learn the local system. If you don't make yourself acceptable, you won't do business. Women have always known this, and they can make it pay off overseas. When you're traveling the globe, you might find yourself beating drums, eating with your hands, even bathing with your associates! Next day you're in on a grueling round of negotiations, and you realize that you're working together better than you dreamed possible. When you respect foreign ways, it's noticed -- and appreciated.
We are raised to be charming and pleasant to be around. Our sincerity and willingness to offer a conciliatory smile can save the day when things get awkward, or even outright nasty. Foreign associates appreciate charm, so smile warmly -- but stay on track. And don't indulge in humor. You never know if they'll get the joke, or how they'll take it. Just because they're laughing doesn't mean they're amused. It means they're watching what you do and going along with it to keep from rocking the boat! Sound familiar? Of course it does -- many women spend their whole lives doing exactly that! Spare your associates the discomfort -- everybody's more comfortable when you stick to business. If you eliminate jokes, you can still entertain by story-telling. I do this quite often. It's one of the oldest, purest ways to communicate and always puts people at ease. Try it. Even if your listeners barely understand English, they will at least have had an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves with you.
Have we convinced you that the lucrative and wide-open world of international marketing is the businesswoman's natural habitat? That our gentler qualities are powerful assets that can transform the way the world does business? "Nonsense!" you might say. "Foreign businessmen don't take women seriously!" It's certainly intimidating to head over to a country where women walk ten paces behind their husbands, but take heart. Many savvy international businesswomen have been pleasantly surprised by their reception, and have discovered that these factors are significant:
1. They're a novelty. Because businesswomen are unusual in some countries, they are highly visible. Think about it -- there's something unremarkable about men doing business, domestically or overseas. So a woman doing the same thing automatically stands out. She gets attention -- deservedly so! -- for her confidence and professionalism as well as her gender. Use your status as a relative novelty to your advantage. Be confident, act confidently, and know your stuff. Then do what you came for.
2. They're educated. Even in countries where women are indisputably second-class citizens, educated women command respect.
3. American women have a particular advantage in international business. They are known for seeking top management positions and aspiring to break through what is commonly referred to as the "glass ceiling." In struggling against these invisible barriers to advancement, they have had to become superbly competent, creative and resourceful -- all of which adds up to an exceptionally fine businessperson. In time, women in other parts of the world, such as Japan and many parts of Europe, will have taken similar strides toward equality in the workplace, and to become a familiar presence in the global arena.
For right now, though, America continues to stand for equality and for a strong work ethic. People expect Americans, men and women, to be smart, gutsy and aggressive, and to mean business. Consequently, an American businesswoman overseas tends to be viewed first as an American, then as a representative of their own or someone else's company, and lastly as a woman. So an American global businesswoman can hope in most places to be understood and respected on her own terms -- and the more women who enter the global arena and make it their own, the better the chance of shattering that glass ceiling for good!
If you still find yourself feeling intimidated, call on the old-fashioned "masculine" qualities of single-mindedness, confidence and determination. First of all, remember that you've got a product they want, or you wouldn't be there. Second, put your knowledge on the table. Look your associates in the eye and tell them what you know. No need to be an arrogant know-it-all; just state your case and stand your ground. Natural confidence commands respect. Finally, if you stay focused on doing the job you flew halfway around the world to do, nobody else can stop you.
A woman who runs the world is a whole human being. She calls on both masculine and feminine traits, and can be gentle and powerful at the same time. She knows how to adapt her interpersonal instincts to fit smoothly into the professional environment, and how to show authority and inspire confidence without intimidating and alienating others. A woman who runs the world adds value to any business, whether it's her own or her home corporation's -- pushing limits, shaking things up, competing vigorously in the world marketplace, and making the world a better place to live.
Enjoy and cultivate yourself, love what you do, and plot your own course. All good things will follow.
Laurel Delaney, MBA, is the founder of Global TradeSource, Ltd., a Chicago-based global marketing, consulting and web content providing firm established in 1985. Ms. Delaney is a speaker, educator, entrepreneur and author. Her book, "Start and Run a Profitable Exporting Business" (Self-Counsel Press, Inc.) is available through amazon.com. She can be reached at [email protected].
(c) Copyright 2000 Laurel Delaney