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Men in the workplace in Latin America


This article will not only be useful for women that work in a business environment or office with Latin American men but also for men who are interested in women working effectively along with Latin American men. So if you have a female employee or colleague who interacts with Latin American colleagues or business partners you might find this article explains what the issues are and what can be done to help. Men and women in Latin America are far from being equals in almost every way. Let's take look at how that inequality may interfere with North American and European business ideas and how to get around it.


Let's state that Latin American men are in many ways adorable especially to women in their own region. Having said that we should take look at peculiarities that may get in the way of business.

The basic inconvenience for a North American or European woman in Latin America is the ¨macho¨ notion. In a nutshell this culture dictates that women should spend their time in the kitchen where they excel and give men great satisfaction. Food is very important in this region. Broadly speaking: women = pleasure for men. This is an oversimplification and not many men will admit it if seriously confronted but it is the underlying idea you get. You hear it in jokes, funny comments, funny looks, etc. Anything out of that home scenario with pots, pans and children is questionable.

This perspective of male and female roles generally is more accentuated in the blue-collar workers group. Optimistically speaking the more highly educated Latin American man is more open to allow women outside of the kitchen door and onto his own turf and to accept women as equal partners in the workplace. As all generalizations this one is also doomed to be wrong but it gives an idea of how to approach the man before you know where he stands.

If you are a woman or if you are in charge of a team that includes women and Latin men remember that you should always give the latter a chance to act before you classify them as a macho type. If after evaluating their behavior you think you have someone that would fit the above description here are some ways to deal with machismo. Use these ideas if you are the woman in question or pass them over to whoever needs this help. For the purpose of demonstration we will define three different groups.

  1. Blue collar: Typically not very engaged in international business and not quite used to foreign people. You can come across them in mining, an industry or a countryside environment. If the need to work with them will be only occasional you might want to delegate the contacts to a male co-worker, manager or employee. Why bother to break ancient cultural barriers when you can just get someone to do the job and not engage in the male/female issue? Let them think whatever they want and get your goals achieved.

    If you need to work together there are two approaches that you can try to:

    1. Play his game and make him feel he is in command: Try to softly suggest your ideas in a way he can buy and make his own, explain your reasons and ask for his advice often, make him feel you value his experience and you want to share what you know with him in a cooperative way. It is likely to find people of humble nature in these jobs that will react very well to this kind of respectful partnership;

    2. Play stronger than him if you can: Do not choose this option unless you have huge experience in the same field and you are ready and able to beat him without a doubt. If the case is you can teach him how to throw a bull to the ground, drive a forklift or make more mineral extraction at the same time, go for it! He may change his attitude the minute he has the conviction you know what you are talking about and he might be able to admire you and respect you for that. Remember he has not seen many women doing that before.

  2. Clerical and middle management: This group might be the most difficult one. Like the middle sibling, they are more eager to prove themselves and will more easily engage in power games. Always remember to start out as you usually would and give the man de benefit of the doubt. In this group the problems could be: they ignore your requests, they openly show disrespect for your authority or you just cannot get them to do what you want. If your case is the last one take a look at the February edition of this newsletter at A little empathy can go a long way .

    If you are experiencing disrespect or lack of authority you can try the following:

    1. Listen: Try to understand if the problem is really about male/female roles or if it is something else. It is very easy to fall too quickly in for the wrong diagnosis only because he is Latin American;

    2. Confront by asking ¨Does the fact that I am a woman make you angry or uncomfortable in any way?¨ It works wonders, most likely the answer will be ¨NO¨ but it will still get the job done. He will still be dealing with a woman but with a brave one and that could make a difference. If the answer is ¨Yes¨ listen to what he has to say and try to address his issues;

    3. Make him comfortable as explained in I. a) however this group might not include as many humble characters as group I.

    4. Threaten: only if you tried all of the above. Sometimes you will not be able to avoid power or political games. This method of dealing with issues is very extensively used among men and sometimes they see no other way than to defeat or be defeated. If that is the case and you have enough power to use your authority, show it to him.

  3. Upper management: This group should give less trouble to women specially if the women involved also belong to upper management. They typically look for efficiency, talent, and achievements. Make sure you are professional and they will not notice you gender except to be gallant.

    In case you have trouble follow the instructions in II.

One final warning for this last group and the other two. Latin men are experts at the art of seduction and they use it often with unaware foreigners. Do not fall for it unknowingly! Good Luck!

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