The International Entrepreneur: Machismo in Latin American Business

I recently had a string of business experiences that have brought home the “Machismo” aspect of Latin American business culture, particularly Mexican culture. I’ve been asked to fetch coffee for colleagues. One director automatically assumed that I was the intern, not the strategist. Sometimes comments made by me or by another woman are conveniently ignored. The Latin American markets are more important than ever. Knowing how to deal with this issue is important for women doing business in parts of Latin America.

I think that the cultural traits underlying Machismo is that many Latin American business cultures give men and women well-defined cultural identities. Men are to be more prominent in business, including leadership positions. Women, particularly younger women, are assumed to have a lower status than their male counterparts. It’s not to say that more defined gender roles is necessarily bad or good – it’s just not part of my home business culture so adjustments are needed to be more successful. So here’s what I recommend to women finding themselves in this cross-cultural situation:

Remember It’s Not Personal

It’s easy to jump to taking offense. But taking a cultural behavior personally won’t advance you towards your business goals. Stay calm.

Dress the Part

Know the dress standards that your cultural counterparts expect. In many Latin American cultures, women hold a higher standard of grooming and a more traditional expectation of femininity. Dressing away from those expectations could make your counterparts feel very uncomfortable about your gender identity, which could impede business talks.

Assert Yourself and Your Status

If men are treating you at a lower status level than your real status, keep asserting your proper role. If you’re the head of your delegation, then make sure that your colleagues are openly deferring decision making to you. A more extreme example I’ve heard from a woman on a trade mission to Veracruz, Mexico was never to stand on the edge of a group picture. She was literally cut out of the official pictures on the Mexican side. So stand in the middle of the group, while at the same time showing off your impeccable business etiquette.

Don’t Forget the Ladies

There are women in all Latin American countries who have risen to the highest levels of business and government. Feel free to work on building  camaraderie and relationships with these female colleagues. We can certainly work to help each other.

Best of success to all!