I’ve been traveling to several places recently for projects – Europe, Singapore, India, Brazil – and it struck me how difficult and sometimes scary, traveling as a woman alone for business can be. Based on my own experience and observations, I started to reflect on how global travel could impact a woman’s ability to be successful in her career. Or the other way around, how being a woman adds another level of complexity to traveling globally and therefore may inhibit a female manager or executive from truly being successful at a global company.
Women are more restricted in certain countries as to what they can do, but it also is a question of what they feel comfortable doing. For example in Germany, a woman can go out for a jog, for dinner, or sit in a café pretty much any time day or night and feel safe. Where as in Brazil one needs an escort and should be cautious at night time overall. India’s infrastructure makes it cumbersome to get around easily and its not really culturally normal to see a woman walking or getting around by herself.
One could make the argument that the benefits of getting out of one’s hotel (and the office) is fresh air clears the head, exercise helps one overcome jet-lag , and generally its more stimulating for the brain than a hotel room or office building. These factors could contribute to a traveling executive’s ability to be more mentally fit for meetings and ready for important decision-making.
Getting out and about is also a good opportunity to meet people and learn something about the local culture that could provide valuable data about the marketplace and business environment. Conversations with local business people, potential customers, and those who live and work in Germany, Brazil, India (or elsewhere) can add to the critical knowledge-base of a budding female executive.
Many women travel from airport to hotel, and from hotel to the office and back, using hired drivers. They spend their spare time in their room ordering room service or in their hotel lounge, alone, finishing up the day’s work, answering emails and nibbling on a hotel salad while drinking a glass of Chardonnay.
It’s a shame, because when men travel they are able to and generally feel more comfortable with being out and about – networking, enjoying local food and drink. They can enjoy getting to know the people and culture who are of personal and professional benefit to them and the company they work for.
I worry women are missing out. How can a woman advance her career and become a truly savvy global business executive if they can’t (or don’t) take advantage of learning about new international environments? I am curious as to what the impact is on their career when having a global mindset today is critically important? Below are my suggestions for alternative ways to explore a country/culture when traveling alone as a woman for business.
Alternative Ways & Tips to Explore a Country:
- Before you travel overseas, connect with someone in a local office and make a plan to socialize with that person after work. Invite them to coffee, dinner, etc.
- Hire a driver that’s recommended by the hotel and have them take you around the city on a private tour, including local spots (not just touristy places) so at least you have a chance to see the city.
- Find a walking tour or a local tour run by passionate individuals. They often speak several languages so it will be easy for them to translate for you. It will also give you a fun and unique perspective.
- Don’t just sit in your room for meals or drinks, get to know the hotel staff and meet the locals staying in the hotel, it will at least give you more ways to experience the culture.
- Act like an Anthropologist and always ask questions about people, customs, behaviors and language – wherever you go. People love to talk about their culture.
- Always dress to blend in and never stand out too much, particularly as a woman.
- Let trusted hotel staff know where you’re planning on being, carry phone numbers with you, and before you go, identify where your local consulate is in case of emergencies.
- Be safe and smart, but most of all, HAVE SOME FUN. It will bring you rewards both personally and professionally.
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