Boss Lady

Tips for doing business in another culture

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Women doing business in another culture will find right from the start there are things that feel strange, aspects that push us out of our comfort zone … unwritten etiquette and behavior rules we don’t yet know about, and the challenge of fitting in meaningfully.

But in any situation where you are out of your comfort zone, you have the wonderful opportunity to develop strength and to learn more about yourself. However, it requires focus and a healthy dose of humour to keep on top of things!

I am an Australian girl who has working and studying in Europe for more than six years now. It keeps me on my toes. “You may have Parisian style, but you’ll never be French”. Disconcerting on one’s path to integration, but I really cannot help Sunday morning trips to the bakery in track-suit pants! And my personal favourite in its ignorance, generally from men, “But you don’t look like an Engineer”.

For women, the corporate journey can be a confronting one because we are still more than likely to be in the minority in our quest for representation in primarily male-dominated fields and boardrooms. My journey so far has been in forging an identity as a foreign woman in the European corporate workplace, and I want to share with you some top tips for your journey and whenever you might feel out of place along the way.

 

Have a sense of humour

Being out of your comfort zone means that sometimes you might have to bear the brunt of others’ ignorance simply because they are not aware, for example, that a woman can lead without aggression, combine family and career without sacrificing one or the other, and can be a feminine engineer, executive or director. There will be moments to fight or defend, moments to speak up and moments to make your point. But you won’t be able to do this all the time. Pick your battles wisely, but for the rest ¾ it always helps to have a laugh, whether it is at the situation or at yourself.

Recently at an industry event, a (male) colleague assured the group a particular engineer was quite normal, down-to-earth and friendly, “not like most female engineers”.

A thousand counter-questions, studies and definitions of stereotypes rushed through my mind. However, I chose in that moment instead to brush it off with, “Yes, we female engineers have particularly scaly skin, are aggressive and difficult to talk to. It’s because are trying to fit in with you lot”. We all had a good laugh at this tongue-in-cheek statement and I was rewarded for my use of humour by the following rhetoric: “Wait, what do you mean? Did I say something wrong?” Now that the situation has been dosed with a laugh, the floor had been opened to a more receptive conversation about the unjust stereotyping at hand.

Use your sense of humour to self-medicate with a healthy dose of endorphins when things get tense or confusing.

 

Stay curious. Ask questions

I find that if feeling out of her comfort zone, an intelligent woman will ask questions that lead to reflection, which, in turn, enables acknowledgement and acceptance. This becomes a logical approach in better understanding and finding your place.

I have seen this in action at work, at networking events, and even at the bar when meeting new people. By asking questions you can hone the first behavior of Emotional Intelligence, which is to recognize and understand the moods, drives and emotions of others. Also, the simple act of enquiry takes the pressure off you and removes the unconscious idea that you should be ‘getting it already’. Asking a question externalises what it is that you don’t understand and gives you the space to reach your own conclusion and ultimately find your way.

 

Make time for yourself 

Take a break every now and then to recharge your batteries with some rest and relaxation. In Europe, I recharge by reading literature and news in English, which gives my brain a break from processing foreign languages. I can also recommend swimming as a way to meditate and work on aerobic fitness simultaneously. I find that doing laps means I focus on my breathing and am able to rid my mind of thought and stress in a way that I cannot when running to music.

Indulging your mind and body in rest is something successful and dedicated women can feel guilty about in the race for busyness. But it’s not wasted time if you are focusing on your health and strength that you will need for the exciting journeys ahead.

 

 

About Claudia Schulz

Claudia Schulz is an Engineer who left Australia’s shores in 2008 to pursue post-graduate studies in International Management in Germany. Currently, Claudia is in Paris working in Key Account Management for a global engineering solutions provider.She is passionate about raising awareness of gender-roles in the international workplace, connecting people, language, literature, and croissants.Has been described as sassy on more than one occasion (thank you, high-school debating).Life goals (in no particular order): attend a TED Conference, travel through Turkey, obtain a PhD, buy an oven (not an easy feat for a Parisian-sized apartment).

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7 Comments

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    Isobel

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    It’s always a good idea to learn as much as you can about the business culture before you travel there.

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