|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.
- 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:
- 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;
- 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.
- 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:
- 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;
- 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
- Make him comfortable as explained in I. a) however this
group might not include as many humble characters as group
- 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.
- 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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