So why focus on women doing international business? Since international business has been discussed in general terms in travel books and business how-to books, what makes your needs as a businesswoman different? The driving force behind all of my research and writings is summarized in one concept: coping with patriarchy. A patriarchy is a social system in which the father is the completely dominant head of the family, and men routinely have authority over women, even in business situations. Patriarchal systems are very real and they exist in many parts of the world today, where, among other effects, they have a tremendous impact in business. As long as these systems exist, international businesswomen will need information on how to deal with them.
Conducting business in patriarchal societies is now anomalous for most high-level businesswomen around the world (maybe especially for those in the U.S.) because in the 21st century, these women have overcome many—though certainly not all!—of the "issues" men still have with women as peers, colleagues, or bosses. Clearly, there is still a long way to go, even in the U.S., in dealing with sexism. Today, in fact, as I write this in the fall of 2001, I watched a prime-time television talk show on a very high-profile case of an American woman's disappearance, which involved a politician. The show's three very vocal speakers (two women, one man) were having a heated discussion. Obviously the women, who both happened to be blonde, had views that differed greatly from the man's. He was asked at one point, "Why is there so much hype about this case?" He was very flustered from the exhausting debate and replied, "Because the
Dr. Tracey Wilen
are too many blondes on it," obviously referring to the two women. The show quickly cut to a commercial.
My research, including that described in this book, is about the success of businesswomen in whatever business dealings they conduct anywhere in the world. I try to look at the past, the present, and the strategies that women use to ensure that they are successful so that other businesswomen may learn and benefit from those experiences and be successful themselves.
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My Interest in Patriarchal Societies
My interest in the subject of businesswomen's strategies for effectiveness in patriarchal societies started over ten years ago when I was working as a middle manager for a major Silicon Valley firm, frequently conducting business with Japan, and working toward my Master's of Business Administration (M.B.A.) degree. One of the research projects for my M.B.A. involved investigating the cultural differences between the U.S. and another country of my choice. Since I was conducting business in Japan on a regular basis (twice a month for a week stay) as a commuter executive, it seemed the natural choice. I opted to focus my investigation on effective strategies for American Silicon Valley businesswomen in Japan, a society in which the roles of men and women are very traditionally defined.
I chose this issue because my first experience at a Japanese business meeting, in 1990, was disturbing. I attended the meeting as middle-ranking businesswoman. I was the only woman at the meeting, and I unknowingly sat in the chair which Japanese businesspeople traditionally view as the secretary's seat in a meeting. (It was the seat closest to the door on the side of the room closest to the door.) I failed to realize at the time that there were any cultural protocols involving where one sits in a meeting in Japan. Furthermore, I was unaware that women's roles in Japanese business were of a different caliber than those of women in the U.S., and that, in fact, women's roles in Japan were largely limited to wife, secretary, or bar hostess.
The limitations placed on Japanese women, I discovered later, have a long tradition. Confucianism requires that a woman strictly obey her father and her husband. Today, Japanese society generally expects women to work until they are married, then quit to raise their children, and return only on a part-time basis, if necessary, after age 40. According to researchers, the limited role of women in Japanese management is due partly to cultural and legal constraints such as part-time working hours for women, and the lifetime employment system, in which major corporations typically offer men lifelong employment, leaving no openings for women. With this cultural view of women attached to me
Mexico for Women in Business
without my awareness, I tried to participate in the meeting, but my efforts were fruitless, and my suggestions were ignored. When the meeting adjourned I was invited to dinner, and I accepted, having been advised by American colleagues that dining with Japanese counterparts was important. However, I did not realize that I would be treated very differently than the other guests, because in Japan women do not attend business dinners.
At dinner that evening, I was seated across the table from the highest-ranking Japanese businessman, unlike at the meeting, where I was situated across from the lowest-ranking Japanese employee. During the meal he queried me on many of the social and cultural differences between America and Japan. We seemed to be having a very interesting discussion, which also included the man to my right, and the man across from him, both of whom were Japanese. In fact, I was quite amazed at how interested in me the Japanese men appeared—after all, they had not been at all interested in me during the meeting. As the dinner progressed, I was surprised to see the men getting quite drunk. Then the highest-ranking businessman leaned across the table and asked me if I could explain to him why women have one breast bigger than the other. Quite shocked, I looked at him and the other Japanese men and saw mixed emotions of shame and interest. I responded calmly with a question: "Would you ask this type of question to your male business colleagues at a dinner meeting? If not to them, then why to me?" At that point, the three men bowed their heads in shame and I sat silently finishing my dinner, aghast at what had just happened.
At our meeting the next day they treated me differently—now listening respectfully to my comments and suggestions, like they listened to those of my male colleagues—and we resumed as if nothing had happened. They included me in the meeting, unlike the day before, realizing that I was perhaps different than women they had dealt with previously.
At that point, I began my quest to understand the cultural differences that lead to the viewpoints that businessmen from other countries have of women in business. For my M.B.A. project I conducted qualitative interviews with several Silicon Valley businesswomen who, like me, were working with Japanese businessmen. I was astounded by their stories of how they were treated while attempting to conduct business in Japan. However, I was fascinated to hear these women also share with me the strategies for business effectiveness they had discovered or developed when working in Japan.
When the interviews for my project were over, the phone calls from businesswomen did not stop. Word of my project had spread, and many other businesswomen wanted to share their experiences. Although my program was over, I documented their stories, fascinated with the various strategies and anecdotes these women shared. Eventually I collaborated with another woman, Christalyn Brannen, and together we wrote and published Doing Business with Japanese Men: A Woman's Handbook (Brannen & Wilen, 1993).
But the investigation did not end at that point. Promptly after the book was published, I received a phone call from a Japanese woman in Japan. She wanted to discuss my book on businesswomen and sexual harassment in Japan. I responded to her that I did not write such a book, but I had written one on doing business with Japanese men. With a sigh, she simply said, "Same thing." At that point my curiosity was piqued and she began to relay to me the grueling situation that working women face in Japan as they try to succeed in a patriarchal society. We agreed that there was need for a research project to investigate how Japanese men with traditional views of women can work effectively with American businesswomen. As a result, my co-author and I expanded our research and produced a second book, this one published in Japanese, targeted to Japanese businessmen. The book was titled (loosely translated from Japanese): Doing Business with Western Women: A Guide for Japanese Men (Wilen & Brannen, 1994). This book was well-received by Japanese women, but less so by Japanese men.
By that point I had moved on in my business travels as a commuter executive in Silicon Valley and I had also started my doctoral studies at Golden Gate University. I was conducting business in other Asian countries, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea; as well as in Europe, including France, Germany, Italy and England. I continued to receive stories from an array of American businesswomen who were effectively conducting business in these countries despite working with foreign businessmen who had traditional views of women. While conducting research projects for classes in my doctoral program, I continued to interview women and collect their stories and strategies into cultural guidebooks for women and published Asia for Women on Business (Wilen & Wilen, 1995) , Europe for Women in Business (Wilen, 1998) and later International Business: A Basic Guide for Women (Wilen, 2001).
Finally, in 1998, my work took me to another region of the world: Latin America. Numerous American businesswomen have suggested to me that this region may be the most fascinating to study with regard to traditional viewpoints and values—especially Mexico, a country in which an understanding of the culture and its "machismo" attitudes is crucial for effective business exchanges.
The Specifics: Focusing on
American High Tech Women in Mexico
Globalization is a major driving force in the world economy as the 21st century dawns. As this much-discussed phenomenon has swept across the business world in recent years, American businesswomen have increasingly been called upon to conduct business internationally—both as "expatriates" on extended stays of months or more, and as "commuters" who travel to other countries for trips of days or a few weeks. Frequently, these professionals report experiencing gender biases when working in other countries. In investigating assumptions and realities surrounding businesswomen on international assignments, the particular research study I conducted for my doctoral dissertation, which is described in this book, examined the issues of how a community of American businesswomen in the high technology industry is treated in these situations in Mexico and how these women cope and strive for efficacy. The project focused on one of the fastest growing, most influential areas of international, intercultural business: the extension of the United States' high technology industry into Mexico.
Specifically, the study proposed that American middle manager businesswomen from high technology companies in the Silicon Valley of California who commute to Mexico for business develop a set of common strategies in order to work effectively with Mexican businessmen there. The study looked at several specific communities of individuals: American women who work in high technology firms in the Silicon Valley; American women managers of women who work in high technology firms in the Silicon Valley; Mexican businessmen who work with American women in Mexico; and Mexican businesswomen (a group added later on in the study). The findings from this study are not intended to be extrapolated to apply to all American women who work in Mexico, but rather to describe the situations in the community that I studied.
In order to illuminate the issues surrounding effective strategies for business developed and used by this community, I looked at the following three areas:
Mexico for Women in Business
First, since there is a scarcity of information on business women conducting commuter assignments, studies of expatriates will be examined in order to determine whether their strategies are similar to those used by women who commute to Mexico.
Second, it is important to understand Mexico and the status of Mexican women in order to gain insight into Mexican men's view of women in general and American businesswomen in particular.
Third, women's strategies for effectiveness in global business are based on understanding cultural differences, so it is important to understand specific differences between the U.S. and Mexico. Cultural differences defined by theorists Edward Hall, Kluckhohn and Strodbeck and Geert Hofestede will be examined and corresponding strategies for business in Mexico will also be described to illustrate how these cultural theories have been put into practice.
Format of This Book
The format of this book is different from my previous books (Doing Business with Japanese Men: A Woman's handbook, Doing Business with Western Women (Tokyo only) , Asia for Women in Business, Europe for Women in Business, International Business: A Basic Guide for Women) because it is adopted from my doctoral dissertation. Over the years, readers have encouraged me to share more aspects of my research with them because the findings and processes have helped them develop their own business strategies. This book examines: the globalization of business; women in business, including on international assignments; cultural and business differences between the U.S. and Mexico; results of the interviews I conducted for my doctoral dissertation with American businesswomen, including managers, Mexican businesswomen and Mexican businessmen; and the results from the study, including strategies and tips from the participants interviewed.
In adapting this book from my doctoral dissertation, I have tried to make it easier to read by removing many of the details and references typically noted in academic writings. The original dissertation is available at: www.umi.com, catalog # 9990832, Title: American High Technology Businesswoman's Strategies for Working with Mexican Businessmen in Mexico, December, 2000, Tracey Wilen. In addition, references for each chapter are listed at the end of the book.