Women in business: customs around the globe

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As women make up half the work force and there’s a growing an emphasis on equality in most Western countries, business people are generally expected to conduct themselves in the same way, regardless of their gender. However, when engaging in international business dealings it can be advisable to consider local customs relating to interacting with those of the opposite sex, especially when there is the potential to cause offence.


While women make up around 41% of the workforce in Japan, the business world can be highly conservative and male-dominated. This is gradually changing, although women may still find they are not treated in exactly the same way as their male colleagues, for example, they may not be invited to after-hours business gatherings at hostess bars.

Women in senior positions should consider introducing themselves and detailing their role in advance of attending any meetings in order to help gain authority and should dress conservatively in dark suits and flats, avoiding short skirts. It is also wise to avoid pouring tea during a meeting, as this could potentially place you in a traditional gender pigeonhole.


Most women work in Russia, making up half of the workforce, however a lack of high-ranking positions for women in many industries may mean that if you are visiting for business, you still notice a disparity between your treatment and that of your male colleagues. Your male Russian counterparts may offer you a slightly weaker handshake and open doors for you, but generally this will be as a courtesy, rather than to suggest your inferiority. Ensure your business cards clearly state your position and level of education and if possible, introduce yourself in advance, clearly detailing your status.


Women travelling to India on business should find they are automatically treated with respect, although it is wise to take the lead from your male Indian counterparts when it comes to handshakes at the beginning and end of meetings. In some Indian cultures men will not touch women in this situation, in others you may be offered a weak handshake, which should be seen as a sign that your male associate doesn’t want to intimidate you.


As one of the principles of the Chinese communist system is to work towards sexual equality, the gender pay gap in China is much smaller than that of many other countries at around 18%, and as that suggests, there’s no absence of women in high-ranking business positions. You may notice that Chinese women rarely drink alcohol at business meals. However, it is acceptable for western women to do so in moderation.


Dressing conservatively is important for both men and women doing business in the UAE. If you are attending a meeting opt for a high neckline, something that covers your arms down to the elbow and legs down past the knee and avoid open toe shoes. It’s sensible to wait for your business associates in the Emirates to initiate handshakes, as there are several different types of greeting.


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