What Would You Do If Your Boss Said You Couldn't Attend A Meeting Because Your Client Didn't Want To Work With A Woman?

BlogHer Original Post

Given corporate America's sensitivities to discrimination lawsuits, it seems unfathomable that a manager in today's litigious environment would sit down with and employee and very specifically say,"you can't attend the meeting because you are a woman."

As implausible as that conversation may seem in 2009, it is occurring in offices throughout global organizations that have clients in countries that are not female-friendly.

Recently I was chatting with a woman who was in that exact situation and not only was the issue discussed out in the open, she wholly endorsed her boss's decision to exclude her from the trip and meeting,saying, " I wouldn't feel comfortable going to that country and dealing with men who didn't want anything to do with me."

Now, I wouldn't feel particularly comfortable going to a meeting in Saudi Arabia either. And it's not just because I'm a woman. But then I didn't take an assignment to do work on a project that involved Saudi Arabia. I wasn't the leader of the project. I didn't have the most knowledge of the project, and I wasn't the one who had to get a substitute up to speed because the men refused to have me sit at the table.

I understand the issue of respecting another country's culture. I applaud all the work that corporations do to prepare their employees on how to be respectful and successful in other cultures. Hopefully, the stereotype of the ugly American is becoming a memory of a different generation.

But when making people in another country feel comfortable clashes with our core values of non-discrimination, it's time to re-think our behavior.For me, it's an ethical issue of paramount importance because the willingness to completely subjugate what is "right" for what is "expedient" says that the corporate America's commitment to non-discrimination is shallow and pliable at best.

The argument,of course, is that business in that region of the world can't be conducted with women involved and so it is an either or situation. Either insist on having women involved and losing the business, or win the business but intentionally discriminate against women employees. So far, American businesses  seem to have opted for the business.

Tracey Wilen is a leading expert in women in global business.  In addition to her work for Cisco Systems she has written several b oks for women working in the global workplace. she does have a website: www.globalwomen.biz but it is currently infected with malware and not available for review.
In an article for Vice Investigative Research & Analysis, Wilen provides detailed information on sexual harassment and discrimination throughout the world.

...male managers in the U.S. who are unfamiliar with more traditional societies may avoid sending female staff members to represent their companies to these cultures, fearing that these businesswomen cannot be effective in male-oriented societies. This viewpoint, however, may be keeping these executives from using what is in fact their strongest asset, since women’s perceived attributes — being good listeners, mediators, and consensus builders — are well-received in international business. Male managers only need to become knowledgeable about the situation in other countries and what their responsibilities are in the event of sexual harassment. They can then send their female staff members with confidence.

While it's easy to focus on how American women are discriminated overseas, that's not to say that all's quiet on the American front. In July, Dell Computers settled a gender discrimination lawsuit for $91 million.Part of that settlement will be used to bring women's salaries on par with male counterparts. Dells ays it is hiring an expert psychologist to review its employment practices.

The lawsuit was filed in 2008 by Jill Hubley, who was a senior strategist at a Dell division in Round Rock, Texas, where the company is based. She was later joined by Laura Guenther, a former Dell senior manager at the same location.

Their suit claimed that Dell “systematically denied equal employment opportunities to its female employees” in compensation and promotions, according the complaint. The company discriminated against women in training, in assignments of positions outside the U.S. and in programs designed to accelerate advancement, the complaint said.

By agreeing to the $91 million settlement, Dell averted admitting to any wrong doing.

Elana writes about business culture at FunnyBusiness

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