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. – “Women in international business” is a very complex and individualized topic. A constructive way of handling the subject is by means of case studies that are reflective of many varied positions. This is my case study.

I don’t think that anyone will take issue with the statement that women have suffered injustices in the work place and that progress has been made in dealing with many of the injustices. However I do not believe that we in the US should think that we have achieved an elevated position on the subject in comparison to the position of women in business in other countries.

A starting point to discuss US women in the global business environment is to discuss the US feminist movement of the 70s and 80s in comparison to other cultures as observed from personal experience. In the US the feminist movement began with a denial of our femaleness.

Bra-Burning, How Ridiculous!

When the feminist movement began, women denied their femaleness ….remember the bra-burning? When I first began working after law school we had to avoid any female related issues. We had to be able to be just as “strong” as the men and were judged strictly by male standards. Our physical needs that were different from male physical needs were not on the table for discussion. Since we were in denial how could we have corrected any injustices or won any true status as women? We just got dumped on even more!

Male Career Track, Why Not a Respected Female Career Track?

I remember a female colleague who was pregnant and risking her health and that of her unborn baby because she was afraid to admit that she couldn’t physically keep up. She didn’t want to risk getting off the fast moving career track and not being able to get back on again because of child-bearing. By denying our femaleness, we maintained a male career track and struggled to live up to it. Stupid right?

Female Support, Non-Existent!

I was often involved in very large project negotiations, and was the first and only professional women in our company. I must admit that most women I negotiated with or against just did not know how to act in what had been a predominantly male role. I also found that other women were not at all supportive. The secretaries certainly were not happy working for another woman….they knew how to play the game with a male boss, but not with a female boss. At that time there really were no female mentors or role models…we were it.

Sexual Harassment, Is It My Fault?

You certainly could not complain back then. You weren’t sure if your male superior would understand or not. As to sexual harassment issues, you were afraid that you would be the one blamed, not the guy who was acting inappropriately because after all it was a male world that we were trying to enter, not change.

Dressing Like a Man, Please!

Oh I almost forgot about our clothing … the boxy suits and ties!! We were just denying our gender and trying to look like men. (This was certainly never the case in Paris!) I remember going to a very large and well-known investment bank in NYC on a negotiation for an extremely large project financing transaction. I always dressed professionally which was more formal than today, but I always refused to wear the male uniform. This time I decided to put my long hair in a bun and wear a silk blouse that had a tie at the neck. I was not my usual self, and negotiations require personality and style. I realized that the investment bank was not paying my salary so I did not have to wear the uniform. My company was an investment company of entrepreneurs who valued your performance and were not “in the box”. I went back to NYC the next time with my stylishly tailored suit, wool turtle neck sweater and leather boots. The other business guy and I negotiated a great deal.

Next Stop: PARIS!

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.