Never give tulips in a Tokyo business meeting. And never wear stilettos in Shanghai. Stylist reveals the essential rules of business etiquette around the world...
Women at work: 41% of the Japanese workforce, with a gender wage gap of 33%.
Keeping authority is the biggest challenge for a western woman in the highly conservative Japanese business world, says Dean Foster, head of DFA Intercultural Global Solutions. “Send a letter of introduction in advance from your boss, explaining why you are the best delegate for the trip.
If you’re the boss, forward a DVD of yourself in a suit at your office with your employees by way of introduction. And never pour the tea in a meeting, as this will immediately put you in a traditional gender pigeonhole.”
Tracey Wilen, the author of Doing Business With Japanese Men: A Woman’s Handbook suggests you should tone down your make-up. “You’ll see glamorous career women in Japan, but don’t be fooled – these are secretaries, not bosses,” says Wilen. “To be respected, dress in a dark suit with minimal make-up, with hosiery and no spiked heels.”
Business cards are essential, continues Wilen, but “translate the reverse into Japanese and avoid trendy job descriptions such as ‘guru’.” Gifts are also integral to Japanese corporate culture, but can be tricky. “Flowers are ripe with connotations – romantic and funereal,” says Wilen. “Instead try something corporate, such as a pen, or the safe ground of edibles.
And always have your present professionally wrapped.” Japan’s famous corporate hospitality culture persists, says Wilen, so you’ll be expected to dine with your Japanese counterparts, “but don’t see this as another meeting. Talking shop is a big faux-pas during dinner with clients. Instead opt for neutral topics such as the local area and don’t be unnerved by silences, which are an integral part of Japanese communication.”
Women at work: 47% of the Russian workforce, with a gender wage gap of 38%
When it comes to doing business in this male-dominated culture, Anna Shevchenko, international negotiator and the author of Culture Smart! Russia, says, “I’ve seen British businesswomen squirm when a Russian businessman helps them with their coat or opens the door for them; but you need to accept this as gallantry.” Foster advises anticipating tricky gender situations.
“This is a macho culture, indubitably. Take another woman along for evening events. The better the gender balance the more likely your male counterparts will behave,” he says. Don’t feel obliged to match your male counterparts vodka-for-vodka, adds Shevchenko. “Women have a get-out from competitive drinking.” Meetings are usually informal in terms of structure. “Don’t expect points to be addressed A, B, C, D,” says Shevchenko. They can, however, be intimidating. “Know your stuff, or you’ll be tossed to the bear-pit.”
Appearance is incredibly important within Russian business too. Shevchenko has heard of an Australian banker being dispatched to a nail salon by the Moscow staff of her company because “they were disgusted by her chipped nail varnish”. “And there’s no sadder sight than an Englishwoman shuffling through the Russian winter snow in silly heels. Instead, do as the Russians do: wear boots and carry smart indoors shoes in your handbag.”
Women at work: 30% of the Indian workforce, with a gender wage gap of 30%
“Everyone knows the Indian head-wobble,” says Ranjini Manian, the founder of cross-cultural advisory Global Adjustments Services Ltd and author of Doing Business In India For Dummies. “It means ‘I’m with you, I understand’. Never take this as an indication your business colleague will deliver, however.” He says,
“Women are automatically respected in India, but can be somewhat faceless. Overcome this by introducing yourself clearly and offering your hand. Don’t be offended by a ‘wet fish’ handshake in return; it’s a sign the man doesn’t want to intimidate you.” Also remember not to point during a meeting, adds Manian, it’s rude.
“Instead signal with a flat palm, or by cocking your chin.” That mastered, why not try a namaste? “The gesture, with your hands in prayer position and a dipped head, is a powerful way of showing respect. It means ‘I bow to the divine in you.’” For dress, “spaghetti straps are never acceptable,” says Manian. “But pearls are a powerful symbol, and a pashmina is a perfect cover-up to combat the heavy air-conditioning.”
Women at work: 45% of the Chinese workforce, with a gender wage gap of 18%.
‘Keeping face’ – or not being embarrassed by refusal or awkward situations – dominates Chinese business culture, explains Scott D Seligman, author of Chinese Business Etiquette. Overcome these cultural protocols by using an intermediary or fixer to float any potentially difficult issues, he suggests. “By being refused something directly, you’ll lose face.
And take a hint. If you’re told something is inconvenient, that’s your cue to back off.” The egalitarian onus of communism has helped the status of businesswomen, says Seligman, though you’ll need to dress modestly.
Don’t, as Seligman witnessed of an American female banker, sail your business card down the conference table. “Exchanging business cards is an act of mutual respect. Take your counterpart’s card with both hands and read it before placing it on the table in front of you.” And never spring surprises in a business meeting. “You’ll need to communicate what you’re going to be talking about well in advance. Anything off-topic won’t get a straight answer.”
Women at work: 47% of the US workforce, with a gender wage gap of 23%
You say tomato, I say tomato still rings true for Brits doing business in the US, says Jeanette Martin, professor of business at the University of Mississippi. “Watch out for business buzzwords with conflicting meanings in US and British English,” she says. “‘Table’ is the classic example: In the US ‘tabling’ something means you’ll deal with it here and now; whereas in the UK you’re postponing it.” Dean Foster also advises caution in the use of British idioms and slang: “Most Americans will hear fortnight as ‘for tonight’, for example; and if you ‘strike out’ in the UK you go after something, whereas in the US it’s a baseball term denoting failure.”
Otherwise, loosen up, says Martin. “Hugging, asking after co-workers’ families – in some ways business practice is much more informal in the US than the UK”. Loosen up those limbs, too: “non-verbals, such as hand gestures, are an integral skill in the US business setting, and can help you drive home a point,” says Martin.
Women at work: 15% of the UAE workforce, with a gender wage gap of 46%
Jeremy Williams, a former UK defence attaché to Abu Dhabi, runs ‘Hand Shaikh’ seminars on successful business practice with Gulf Arabs, warns, “Many successful Gulf Arabs have studied in the UK; so they know how you act, while the reverse isn’t true.” Allow the other side to initiate a handshake, Williams says. And dress “modestly, covering arms to the elbow”. Don’t be offended if you’re asked directly, and repeatedly, about your marital status, and harness your reserves of patience in other areas:
“You’ll often need several meetings to secure a deal, which can be frustrating when you have a large hotel bill running.” Understand, too, how central hospitality is to the culture. “If you’re offered yet another coffee, accept, as this is a tradition that reaches back to the desert days. Be seen to savour the coffee.” But be prepared, “your client will be charming until you name a price,” says Williams. “Never come down on price, but factor in extras, so your Arab client can feel he’s succeeded at the art of bargaining.”
Women at work: 47.6% of the US workforce, with a gender wage gap of 19%
The French are social animals, says Joe Laredo, author of Culture Wise France: The Essential Guide To Culture, Customs and Business Etiquette. “They love to meet and discuss, but the endless debate can be frustrating for the decisionoriented Anglo-Saxons.” Days can be long with “most real work done at 7pm,” says Laredo. “But the French will never work weekends.” Women are respected, “although you may be flirted with; which you should take in good humour,” says Richard Whiting, author of Starting A Business In France. Don’t forget the French respect for privacy: “Knock and wait before entering the room and never drop in unannounced.” Books and music make fine corporate gifts, says Whiting, “as they demonstrate an interest in intellectual pursuits”.