Case 5.3.

Women in International Business 


Tonia was a bright young Danish blonde of about 20 employed by a Singaporean jewelry manufacturer. She was also studying international marketing part time at the Export Institute of Singapore. Having heard about the gender barrier Tonia asked one of her EIS lecturers, “Which markets would you say are the most difficult for a woman to do business in?”

“Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea,” replied the lecturer without hesitation. The next day Tonia asked for a meeting with her boss, the marketing manager of the jewelry company. She volunteered to undertake a sales mission during the semester break to those very markets, and after some careful preparation left on a two-week trip to Tokyo and Seoul.

The next semester Tonia proudly reported to the class that she had been able to sell her company’s fine jewelry successfully in not just one but all three of those particularly tough markets. Not only that, she had even been offered a job as marketing manager by one of her new customers!

Tonia took a number of steps which raised her status and allowed her to succeed. She got her male boss to introduce her to prospects by email and phone to prospects, she knew her job, and she learned to show respect to the customers. These are steps that other young women can take as well.

Case 5.3.

Women in International Business

Solution and Discussion

In one of my first classes as an adjunct lecturer at the Export Institute of Singapore we had an exchange student from Niels Brock in Denmark. Like all the other EIS students ”Tonia” studied for 12 weeks, then worked at a local company for 12 weeks. It was a work-study program based on the Danish Export Academy model. She did her homework thoroughly.

Tonia learned that in these hierarchical cultures her potential customers would naturally expect to meet an older, male salesperson. So it was important that Tonia was introduced by her high-ranking male boss via phone, email or fax. The status given by age and rank is transferrable. Of course an introduction in person would have been better, but that wasn’t possible for her boss.

Having learned that the buyer in hierarchical cultures the buyer enjoys higher status than the seller, Tonia made the effort to show appropriate respect to the customers. For example, in Korea she addressed them by title only, e.g. “General Manager,” rather than by name.

Tonia also knew her job. She could answer her customers’ questions about her product’s quality, cost, packing, delivery, payment and the like without having to refer to her home office. Your proven expertise and credentials will raise your status in hierarchical cultures.

And finally, as a woman it was probably easier for her to sell gold jewelry than industrial products such as machine tools or earth-moving equipment.

The aim of this case is to help young people – particularly women – succeed in markets where age, rank and expertise are crucially important. Generational change is gradually making it easier for women to do business in hierarchical cultures, but cultural change takes time.

I often find it useful to pair this case with the next one, “Sourcing in Seoul.”