This case study presents the specific gender relations and ways of behaving that vary among cultures.
A couple of years ago I had my first business trip to Karachi/Pakistan. My colleague (Gottlieb S.) who was in charge of Marketing for the Far East Region planned this trip to visit the Ciba-Geigy owned entity in Karachi in order to validate the local marketing strategy. Gottlieb asked me to accompany him on his trip and to analyse the outcome of the discussions from a financial point of view.
Although I was flying with Gottlieb to Pakistan, I had concerns regarding my personal safety in Pakistan. I contacted our travel office and checked the travel recommendations for Pakistan. There were just the normal advises such as to keep an eye on your personal belongings and not to walk unaccompanied in the streets of Karachi. Pakistan was classified to be a rather safe city since it is an Islamic country.
This information gave me confidence, and I prepared myself for the trip by analysing the Financial Statements of the Ciba-Geigy Pakistan entity, business plans and Marketing data. Eventually, Gottlieb and I flew from Zurich to Karachi. At the airport, in Karachi, the local head of the entity – the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) – picked us up and brought us to our Hotel in the city. That evening he invited us for dinner together the local Marketing Head and Finance Head. During the dinner with the CEO informed us that for the next evening at the Hilton Hotel a reception was planned by the Pakistan Minister of Agriculture. Leading Managers from crop protection producing and distributing companies were invited together with important farmers, local distributors as well as agricultural officers. He would be pleased if Gottlieb and myself could accompany him and introduce two representatives from Ciba-Geigy headquarters in Basel to the Pakistan Minister of Agriculture.
The next evening we prepared ourselves for the important reception. I was relieved that I also packed a tie and a light jacket, the appropriate attire for this evening. The driver of the CEO picked us up at the Hotel und brought us to the Hilton Hotel where the reception was supposed to take place. Gottlieb and I entered the Hotel hall, asked for the way and headed to the reception. As we entered the room I noted two clusters of people: in one corner several men were gathered, in the opposite corner of the room, there was a group of nicely dressed women. Suddenly, the CEO freed himself from the male group, approached us and welcomed us and led us to the men’s group and introduced Gottlieb and myself to the Minister of Agriculture of Pakistan and the other members of this group.
A lively discussion started off within the group, asking Gottlieb and myself about Switzerland, the reason why we came to Pakistan, whether we liked the country etc. Meanwhile, a waiter approached the group and offered alcoholic drinks such as Whiskey, Gin and Rum. From what I knew about Islam I didn’t expect to be offered alcoholic drinks. But maybe this was just a way of the Minister to show his hospitality to Western European guests and to express his esteem. Since everybody in the group had a glass in his hand and sipping from time to time I didn’t want to be impolite by refusing the offer and asked for a glass of Whiskey. Relaxed chatting about everything under the sun continued.
Occasionally, I glanced at the group of women that stood in the opposite corner of the room clearly separated from the male group. The ladies conversation was rather reserved, less lively. They rather seemed to observe the group of men.
I noted the nice and elegant dresses they wore and assumed that these women must be the wives of the male guests. All of a sudden it came to me that I forgot to introduce myself to them. I moved over to the ladies group, bowed and waited what would happen. The group stopped talking and stared at me. I felt uneasy and had the feeling that something went wrong. All of a sudden a European looking lady stretched out her hand to me, introduced herself as being the wife of the CEO and expressed a warm welcome. I shook the offered hand and replied the greeting.
Now, the ice was broken. I turned to the other ladies being prepared to undergo a longer introduction ceremony. However, none of the ladies seemed to move neither to shake hands nor to ask any questions. Feeling uncomfortable in this awkward situation I stretched out my right hand to a lady standing next to me for a handshake. The group of ladies seemed to be horrified by my behaviour, stepped back and stared at me. I was flabbergasted since I didn’t know what went wrong. The European looking lady was the first one who broke the embarrassing silence, looked at me and suggested: I suppose your colleagues are missing you! I understood the broad hint to leave the ladies alone and to return to the men’s group, my tail slunk off between my legs.
When I came back to the men’s group the gentlemen looked at me contemptuously and continued their conversation. I really felt bad, assuming that I made a mistake. I hoped that somebody would help me out of this embarrassing situation.
Analysis of the event with the help of the ComSit-Modell
The assembled individuals belong to a higher social class with regard to education, position in politics, business as well as income. Joint political and economic interests, but also a common religion with its rigid rules connect those individuals. Due to its prominent position, this social layer is a role model for other social groups. Role models need to stick tightly to rules and regulations in order to stay trustworthy and to buttress and maintain their present social position by other social groups. Individuals are not expected to break out from stringent behavioural patterns. They cannot react spontaneously and relaxed.
The group of women was completely confused when I turned to them. Based on their upbringing the ladies were not to expect to be approached by men in public or during social events, let alone somebody stretching out his hand in order to say Hello. The religious customs of the Islam forbid men to do so.
From the point of view of the men, I committed a serious mistake by drawing my attention to the ladies in the room. Women are supposed to have a “decorating” role in public. They shall dress nicely and adorn lavishly in order to signal that their husband is affluent. Taking note of women in public equates degrading the social status of men.
The Pakistan culture is strongly religiously (= Islamist) shaped. It is a generally shared attitude to separate men and women in public, during social events etc. Women have a passive role in public.
Islam is often explained as an ideology used to justify male dominance over women who are perceived as weak and socially dependent on males.
It can be assumed that the ladies of the women group had a good educational background. Furthermore, it can be presumed for the majority of the ladies that the social event in the Hilton Hotel was not their first social event, they took part. In other words, one can assume that the ladies were not worded innocent, had some knowledge about other cultures and their characteristics. Yet, the women were not able to react appropriately. The religious behaviour standards did not permit an area for mental reactions.
The group of women was completely confused when I turned to them. How should they react to my contempt of code of conduct? The only possibility they had in order to make clear to me that my behaviour was not acceptable was to be bee silent, i.e. to loop the connection between sender and receiver. By stepping back the ladies insinuated with the help of body language their rejecting attitude.