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Global Workplace
by Mary van der Boon
(this article first appeared in Woman Abroad)

Brave New World

Gone forever are the days when women managers were required to be ‘men in skirts’. Today’s holistic management values embrace not only one’s
intelligence quotient (IQ) and emotional quotient (EQ) but also social skills in the workplace, the much-vaunted social quotient (SQ), or the degree to which one is able to connect with others and communicate elements of intelligence and empathy.

Years of research and study have shown that women handle emotions and relationships differently than men. Increasingly, the empathy and insight many women managers bring to their work is receiving boardroom attention, and companies are realizing that in an ever-globalising world these skills may just be indispensable. Multinationals are scrambling to incorporate elements of interpersonal and intercultural expertise into their workforce, but may be overlooking a key resource. According to the recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers
International Assignments European Policy and Practice: Key Trends 1999/2000 only 9% of expatriate managers were women. Different sources put the number of expatriate women executives sent on overseas postings at between 10 – 15% of total assignments.

Gender stereotypes are partially to blame for the shortage of female executives overseas. Many are familiar: male managers in another culture will treat foreign women the way they do women in their own country; women are not up to the ruthless negotiation and bargaining strategies necessary in international business; local male colleagues will refuse to cooperate with a woman manager. Mackie Chase, Professor of Intercultural Studies at the University of British Columbia, has another experience: ‘when I do business in North Asia, executives there assume that if my university has sent a woman, I must be very senior’.

Other women working internationally find they are treated as a foreign expert first, and a woman second. More often youth and relative lack of experience are viewed by these women executives as greater drawbacks than gender. In Singapore, women managers are perceived as being empathetic and loyal, and are much in demand for these qualities. And since conflict resolution comes easier to women than to men, negotiations with women on either or both sides of the boardroom table are frequently conducted in a spirit of congeniality and fair play. According to intercultural guru Cornelius Grove, ‘many female expats, especially those outside Western culture, report that local males ‘at first didn't know how to react to me.’ The successful ones say that, over time, they seemed to become ‘a member of a third gender’ or an ‘honorary male’.’

Perhaps the greatest obstacle facing women in management is the glass ceiling, and this phenomenon knows no national or international boundaries. From Vladivostok to Venice, and San Francisco to Santiago, men at the top are simply more comfortable with others like themselves. Many of the top women in business cite male stereotypes and exclusion from informal networks as the major barriers to advancement.
In The Global Challenge: Building the New Worldwide Enterprise, researchers Riesenberger and Moran found that female managers reported the biggest barriers coming from within the corporation, rather than from situations actually encountered during foreign assignments.

So what’s a girl to do? Attitude plays a big part in career success, both at home and abroad. Chantal Hermann, CEO of Intelligent Nutrients in the U.S., shared her success toolbox with participants at last fall’s Women’s International Networking Conference in Milan. Mastering these skills are essential for success in today’s global marketplace:

1. learn the internet – this is crucial
2. become an effective public speaker
3. be an active listener
4. talk to men the way they talk to each other (brief, to the point and unemotional)
5. look for mentors, and make use of them
6. get involved elsewhere, in the community, schools, doing volunteer work
7. don’t be too hard on yourself (a common female trait)

International networks are essential to today’s women abroad. The tendency of women who made it to the top to pull the ladder up behind them has been replaced by a new generation of women eager to share the secrets of their success. Online services such as those offered by womenconnect.com (for women in business) women.com (covering a wide range of issues of interest to women) or expatexchange.com (an important source of information and support for women overseas) allow women all over the globe to connect and pass on information.

The message for women in today’s brave new world of business: know no limits. Network, interface, connect and, most of all, embrace those qualities that are innately yours. Don’t emulate – instigate!