The following are some tips from author Mary Murray Bosrock that American women should keep in mind when doing business abroad:
• Send an introductory letter from your company. Make sure it states your title and qualifications as well as your authority.
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• In countries with more old-fashioned views of women, have a trusted and respected local man introduce you to your new colleagues, clients, or customers.
• Dress appropriately! Locals should see you as a businessperson first and a woman second. This means you should dress conservatively but in a feminine style. Avoid wearing clothing that flaunts your sexuality -- ignore this advice, and your credibility will suffer.
• Enter meetings with confidence. Stand tall (even if you are not). In some respects, your expertise will be judged by your body language.
• Respond gracefully when men open doors for you and otherwise engage in behavior that is often considered sexist in the United States. Gallantry is part of many cultures and is not considered sexist behavior.
• Don't make a scene if a man calls you "dearie," refers to you as a "girl," or uses other terms that Americans tend to interpret as condescending or belittling. Most cultures do not attach the same derogatory meanings to these words as we do.
• Expect cultural misunderstandings. If you feel you have been insulted, ask someone for clarification. Chances are that a misunderstanding has occurred.
Once you are recognized as a competent businessperson with the authority to make decisions, you will be able to establish a very good working relationship. Your progress will then be determined by what you do, not by who you are.
You should, however, take the time to research the local customs and attitude toward women. Knowing the expected behavior will make you and your foreign counterparts more comfortable.
For instance, you might want to know:
• In Korea, women allow men to enter a doorway first and help men put on their coats. Women pour drinks for men but never for other women.
• In Italy, a woman should not pour her own drink.
• Traditionally, a Thai woman loses face if a man touches her in public.
• In Vietnam, women who wear heavy makeup and revealing clothing are viewed as prostitutes. This perception holds true in much of Asia.
• In Europe, a woman should always offer her hand to a man first when meeting and greeting. This is proper etiquette in the United States as well, although it isn't generally observed.
Mary Murray Bosrock has written the award-winning "Put Your Best Foot Forward'' series, as well as "European Business Customs & Manners'' and "AsianBusiness Customs & Manners," country-by-country guides on how to converse, negotiate, dress, dine, and socialize when doing business abroad.