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Proper Protocol -- She Does Business Abroad


In many parts of the world, a woman's traditional role is in the home. The concept of a woman as a business executive is much less common. Understanding the customs and proper business protocol at your destination is most important if you are to be truly successful. There are many excellent books available pertaining to the topic of cultural correctness for women. Journeywoman suggests Raise Your Cultural IQ (Louisa Nedkov),  Asia for Women on Business (Wilen & Wilen) and Do's and Taboos Around the World for Women in Business (Axtell, Briggs, Corcoran and Lamb).

Know before you go...

Learn some of the language...
Learn to greet your business host in his or her language. A show of respect and consideration is always appreciated. This means doing some basic homework with language tapes before you travel. Listen to your cassettes in the car, when you're enjoying a long walk or during the long plane ride to your destination. With a little luck, you'll be a star in time for your first international meeting.

Hotel rooms a no-no for meetings...
Whether you are working in India or in China, whether you are staying in one room or a larger suite, make your hotel room out of bounds to visitors. Always meet your business contacts in the lobby of your hotel and avoid giving out your room number. It's hard enough to have some men respect the business acumen of a woman. You'll improve your chances by being friendly but never familiar.

Learn the art of business cards...
Print your business cards in English on one side and in the language of the host country on the other. Especially in countries where women generally don't hold key corporate positions, this will eliminate any misunderstanding about the rank and position you hold within your profession. Find out the correct way to give and receive business cards. To show your respect for the person who has handed you her's or his card, read it carefully before putting it away. In China (including Hong Kong) and Japan, you're expected to use both hands to give and receive a card. However, in parts of the Middle East, you must never use your left hand, as that hand is considered unclean.

Appropriate dress is most important...
Dress appropriately and modestly. If local women don't wear trousers to the office, you shouldn't either. Wear sensible shoes that allow you to stand for long periods of time and to move quickly if necessary. Be culturally correct and pay attention to the colour of your clothing. For example, in Cambodia white is worn solely for mourning, in Japan red is considered too provocative and in Malaysia yellow is reserved for royalty.

Know your food etiquette...
Learn how to decline food graciously during business dinners so that no one will be insulted. For instance, in Asia, leave some food in your bowl. This suggests that your hosts have fed you well and you're no longer hungry.

Business with men -- dinner with women...
Understand that, in some countries, even if you do business with men during the day, you may be seated separately, with women only, for evening dining. Accept this situation graciously as this is, of course, a wonderful opportunity. You'll have this precious time to learn more about the lives of women in the culture you are visiting and you'll probably have great fun, too.

Expect flirting, decline flirting...
In certain cultures, businessmen may consider it acceptable to proposition or to flirt with visiting businesswomen. Don't be offended. Journeywoman suggests that a simple and direct "no" is most appropriate.

The interesting customs of gift-giving...
What seems like a wonderful present in your hometown can be considered dreadfully wrong in another culture. Before offering gifts to your hosts, make sure that the type of offering and even the colour of the wrapping paper you use are culturally acceptable. In Chinese Brunei handkerchiefs symbolize grief, in China clocks are associated with death, in Japan gifts with large corporate logos are frowned upon and when offering flowers in Taiwan be certain not to give an odd number as that is considered unlucky. When choosing wrapping paper in Vietnam red, purple, green and blue are fine, in Singapore red is most acceptable, however, black is to be avoided in all Asian countries as it signifies death.

Bonus tip...
For your various airplane trips, don't wear jeans, sweats, or other dumpy looks -- it's unprofessional and sets the wrong tone with colleagues accompanying you, contacts you may encounter on board, and the people who may be meeting you when you arrive. For comfort on the plane avoid clothing that binds your abdomen.

(Source: Do's and Taboos Around the World for Women in Business)

Women's words on doing business in Japan...

When I held my first meeting with the Japanese, I knew I had to establish my credibility immediately. I asked my team members to enter the room first, introduce themselves and be seated. I told them not to start the meeting until I joined them and to leave the center seat at the negotiating table open for me. Better than any verbal introduction or business card, these very visible actions clearly established my position and authority. Equally important, they showed the Japanese that our negotiating team was unified and organized.
A female executive, New York City, NY
(Source: Doing Business With Japanese Men, A Woman's Handbook,
Christalyn Brannen and Tracey Wilen, ISBN 1-880656-04-3)

Interested in more female-friendly business tips? Click here.




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