Women and Safety in a Global Business World
Deconstructing Myth 2 By: Julianna Reed and Richard Cook
The issue of safety can be one of the more important issues a women expatriate needs to consider. Although it is often used as a deterrent to discourage women to work globally it is not a valid reason for women to not venture abroad. Safety is an issue when working in a foreign countryregardless of gender. When we enter a society where we are the “foreigner” it is important for any individual to take precautions regarding safety, to become an active observer and listener, and to respect the laws and customs. Understanding behaviour codes and body language are essential tools in helping to integrate and assimilate quickly.
With regard to women, sexual harassment canchallenge a woman’s safety and sense of security. Unfortunately legal protection from sexual harassment is relatively new in countries such as the US and some European countries. There tends to be very little protection for women in countries where few women are employed in the workforce. Also, what might be viewed as sexual harassment by a North American or European might be considered normal oracceptable behaviour in other countries. Therefore, it is important to evaluate each situation and try to view it through the eyes of the host culture, while being firm in defining one’s own boundaries. This may mean that women will have to be more flexible with their comfort zone, but never doing so to the point of compromising personal integrity or safety. Here are some strategies for dealing withsexual harassment, outlined by Roger E. Axtell in Do’s and Taboos Around the World for Women in Business.
1. Try to head off potentially offensive remarks by saying firmly, “Stop. I don’t want to hear this.” If the conduct continues, take the following steps:
2. Keep a written log of offensive incidents. If you believe that an individual’s intent is malicious, jot down the dateand a description of each incident. Describe the behaviour that offends you and the actions you have taken to stop the conduct.
3. Report the conduct up the chain of command, following any rules and practices of the organisation you are working with. Keep a record of your reporting activities.
4. Consult your company’s legal department. Recognise that your country’s harassment laws(if they exist) will probably not apply abroad.
In order to understand these kinds of situations more clearly here is a possible scenario that would probably be considered sexual harassment from a North American and Northern European (UK, Germany, Netherlands etc) perspective. How might a women expatriate deal with this troubling situation?
A female expatriate is in aLatin American country and finds herself at dinner with her male colleagues. During the course of the dinner one of her male colleagues sitting next to her keeps directing the conversation to how much he is attracted to her beautiful hair. What should she do?
A. Bat her eyelashes and laugh, thinking this may be a way to get what she wants in negotiations in the future.
B. Blush andswitch seats with the colleague sitting to her other side to get away, without confronting what he has said.
C. Throw her water in his face, stand up and run off.
D. With firm seriousness thank her colleague for his compliment and make it clear in an indirect way (body language, gaze, etc) that these comments or any further comments would be inappropriate.
Her new colleague might notrealise that his advances are offensive or perhaps he is trying to test if she is interested. It is extremely important in the international setting to make boundaries clear and to not mix business with pleasure, even if one is tempted. Answer A would likely get our female expat in more trouble, risking a greater deal of harassment and inviting sexual advances that are not welcome. It is important...
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