Did you know that women in Germany who wear dark-coloured business clothes tend to be more influential? In Denmark, dressing up your business wear with accessories is largely frowned upon. In France, the opposite is true: giving your business clothes a stylish twist isn’t just acceptable, it’s pretty much a cultural expectation.
Women whose work brings them into contact with different cultures should acknowledge and address different perceptions of gender.
Things to think about include: how you dress, body language, gestures, hierarchies and etiquette.
Dress for respect
It’s pretty obvious and widely known that there are expectations and restrictions on how women should dress in some cultures. The expectations about what women should wear are less obvious in other cultures.
A few general rules for women are to avoid high heels, trouser suits, boots, heavy makeup and accessories as these can often be ‘etiquette minefields’ for the travelling women seeking to exert influence in a business setting. The Middle East and the Muslim world expect women to dress conservatively, and in some cases to cover their hair.
Don’t forget the weather
The weather is something that you should research before you leave to do business. Overlooking this factor can prove to be a dire mistake. Sweat marks from overheating is not a great look and will cause considerable discomfort. Being too cold can be just as great a distraction.
Many experts agree that a woman travelling abroad can’t really go wrong with wearing a skirt suit, or conservative dress in a business setting. You should always match the fabric to the weather though, so for example in humid countries natural fabrics are easier to wear and more comfortable.
Get Culturally Aware
Understanding gender differences, hierarchy, business meeting protocol, relationship building, social etiquette and certain do’s and don’ts is also crucial. Making yourself aware of local expectations and norms will help you make a good impression and avoid any potentially costly faux pas.
Here are a few tips on becoming more culturally aware:
1. Ask Questions
Asking questions is always a good place to start. Ask colleagues or anyone who has worked in the country you’re heading for. And when you get there, make the most of the support professionals you cross paths with – taxi drivers, waiters and especially the hotel concierge. Locals are usually more than happy to help and will give you the best tips on how to fit in abroad.
2. Books, apps and internet research
Books or apps about international etiquette can be a great help. These often cover basic tips that can help introduce you to local cultural differences. If you don’t want to invest in a book or an app, why not trawl the internet for articles and information? There is now plenty of information out there which is easily accessible. Women too have published articles and books with their own unique perspectives.
For those wanting specific or a more in-depth understanding of a new culture, formal training now covers many areas of cultural awareness. Corporate training courses focused on gender-specific challenges abroad are also widely available and are often the best way to gather relevant information – usually from experts who have lived and worked in the target country. This also gives you the chance to ask questions relevant to your specific role or challenges you may be facing.
Working internationally is a lot of fun. However, it’s vital to remember that people differ from region to region and culture to culture. As you would expect respect from a visitor to your country, you should also do the same in theirs by taking the time to understand the people you plan to do business with.