Communicating across cultures

WE tend to think and speak of women from non English-speaking backgrounds (NESB) as ‘disadvantaged’ or lacking power. However, both in and out of the workforce, I see many migrant women, and particularly Italo-Australian women, who are very powerful and successful – which was why I interviewed a number of them to probe the reasons for their success. I was particularly interested in looking at the interaction of gender, cultural identity and success in business.

In some depth I interviewed a group of women who are co-owner/managers of successful travel, restaurant, ceramic sales and real estate small businesses in the Perth metropolitan area, ranging in age from 43 to 52 years.

All of the women interviewed considered that the following factors contributed to the success of their business: developing a sound reputation; providing a good service for customers; creating a ‘family-like’ atmosphere; being committed; and loving the work they do.

They indicated that having an Italian background was useful in dealing with ‘Italian’ clients and in attracting an ‘Italian’ clientele. However, all of them now have mixed clientele and the language does not seem to be a major factor. They felt that their Italian background also gives them other skills/ qualities such as warmth in dealing with people and the ability to provide a ‘caring service’ and ‘people skills’.

As for gender, they all regarded their being female as a positive thing that also contributes to the caring qualities mentioned above, and which they felt were valued in business. However, they also indicated that they had had to make some sacrifices, including: working for very long hours; trying to balance mother/wife roles and career demands; and sacrificing time with friends and loved ones. The married women expressed concerns about juggling the home and job demands but felt that they had done both successfully. This agrees with research findings by White, Cox and Cooper, in Women’s Career Development: A Study of High Flyers, which found that high-flyer women did not report role conflict between work and family but that role overload did have an impact on their home life.

All of these women seemed to have a zest for life, a strong motivation to succeed and high levels of career satisfaction. Again, these findings agree with White, Cox and Cooper, who indicated that successful women were primarily motivated by the intrinsic desire to excel in their work.

These women seemed to have used both their gender and their ethnicity as forces for their success. The question remains, however, are these attributes generally viewed as positive and would these women have been as successful in the public domain?

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