Editor’s note: “International Business Corner” is a weekly column written by Joan Keston that provides information for people involved in or considering international operations. Keston is an international business consultant. Over the next several months she will be writing about important issues that international businesses face as they compete in the 21st century global business environment.

This article is part of a series that discusses women working in international business.

RALEIGH, N.C. – I tend to avoid addressing “women’s issues” when discussing business or professional topics. The subject is very individualized and generalizations once made can easily be refuted as different situations and circumstances are considered.

As women entered the work place in greater numbers over the past few decades, a distinction can be made between their entry in greater numbers into those jobs or careers that have been traditionally female dominated jobs or careers, and their entry into those jobs and careers that have traditionally been male dominated. Business in general has been a male dominated area and to a large extent continues to be so. This is an important distinction for purposes of this discussion.

The following four topics are very relevant to the subject of women in business in general, with added implications for international business. How each of these areas impact women in business varies between countries and regions, often based upon the particular culture and economic development of the country under consideration. There are also distinctions in the experiences of US women working in international business from a position in the US, US women living in foreign countries and working in business and foreign women in business in foreign countries.


Clearly women have been discriminated against in the work place in probably most countries and regions. This is evident in lower salaries, fewer promotions and lower rates of employment when compared to men. The professional arena, level of work, class distinctions, education and cultural characteristics contribute greatly to this variation. In addition some professions are more characteristic of women’s talents and skills, whether gender related or developed as a cultural influence, while others are more male oriented. These factors will greatly influence the particular experience of a woman in international business.

(In some countries, women are restricted from working or even being educated. This is an extreme situation dealing with blatant and even criminal injustice, and a somewhat different battle from the issue of discrimination.)

Sexual Harassment

Whenever men and women work together there is always the issue of the interaction between genders and sexual relationships that might develop. When gender issues and sexual advances are exploitive or manipulative, unacceptable sexual harassment is the result. The line between the acceptable and unacceptable interaction between genders and the behavior mode are to some extent a result of the culture where you are doing business.


Women, more so than men, are greatly challenged in balancing their home-life with work-life. Child bearing and rearing greatly impedes the ability of women to work in international business, as in some other professional arenas. The level of success of this balance is affected by the support provided by society and the cultural characteristics of family units.

Team Work and Mentoring

Business in general often involves team work. Women historically have not been groomed in team environments as much as their male counterparts. I would also query whether by nature women are team players as much as men. You often hear women say that other women in the business environment are their worst enemies. Contributing to this disadvantage is the paucity of female mentors when compared to male mentors, an important ingredient for progressing in a business environment.


Although some generalizations can be made, the discussion of women in international business is extremely complex and personalized. Success may often be the result of a particular individual’s style in dealing with the obstacles that are gender related. It is an added burden that women must address along with the challenges that all people confront in international business. How women are viewed and respected in foreign cultures, and how the individual adapts and copes with these cultural differences greatly impacts the ability to be successful in international business.

About the author: Joan Keston is the Managing Principal of Keston & Associates, Ltd., an international business consulting firm located in Raleigh, NC, and a Partner at Paladin and Associates, Inc. She has 25 twenty-five years of experience with mature as well as entrepreneurial companies, domestically and internationally, coupled with an executive managerial and legal background. Her firm facilitates international business transactions, and assists companies establish, grow and integrate their international operations. She can be reached at (919) 881-7764 and jkeston@kestonassociates.com.