Wednesday, March 10, 2010

International Women's Day 2010 - "And the Winner is . . ."

In Atlanta, we celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, with a focus on international business and international careers for women.

Many of the women present had never been abroad; some had immigrated to the United States from . . . Canada, Germany, Haiti, Latvia, the Netherlands, Singapore, and a few had traveled abroad. Few had done business internationally and even fewer expected to have international careers. Nearly all agreed that “global” is here to stay and that we must become comfortable functioning in an interconnected world.

Permit me to share some highlights with you, in the event you were not there in person:

We talked about the status of women in the business worlds of Japan (serving) and China (leading).

The dominance of U.S. diplomatic influence in international business and law was touched on.

A fascinating insight was provided by an attendee who had in the near past attended a women’s leadership conference in Turkey, where women from twelve different countries had compared notes. Her conclusion was that while women in the business world all deal with the same issues, “balance” and equality among them, we all come to them from different starting points.

We talked about the fact that the U.S. is isolated between Canada, Mexico and two oceans, thwarting global curiosity, but the argument that “we are still a young country and still have a lot to learn” was countered by our immigrant from Singapore, who mentioned that her native country (46 years old, vs. the U.S.’s “old age” of 234) had already successfully figured it out.

Much emphasis was placed on the need to hire an employee or consultant who is intimately at home in the next country in which you want to do business.

Four attendees gave their input into “favorite country to visit” and named, respectively, Dubai, France, Italy and Sri Lanka.

Putting it all into perspective, this contribution came from the attendee who had been at the conference in Turkey. Another participant in the conference had been a business woman from Saudi Arabia, who had been hired by a firm that “broke the rules” (i.e. hiring a woman was anathema in this particular industry and in business in general) and who could not report to work for the first three months of her employment, because . . . contractors had to be brought in to add a woman’s restroom to the premises. Office complexes in Saudi Arabia, it was mentioned, are built without ladies’ rooms, because no business ever anticipates hiring a woman!

So, our award for IWD 2010, if there is one, goes to the Saudi Arabian company that broke precedent, recognized women (well, at least one woman!) as valuable contributors in the business world and trumped its peers! Way to go!

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