How Women Leaders Adapt

Global organizations do business in countries where men are given more status than women. Wise business leaders, for the sake of effectiveness, adapt to cultures.

If you don’t adapt to cultures, “Not only will you not be effective, you might inadvertently offend someone.”
Susan Thomas

Susan Thomas, Managing Consultant with IBM Business Consulting Services, Human Capital Solutions, embraces adapting. She told me when IBM sends teams into foreign countries they are sensitive to things like:

  1. Dress.
  2. Gender.
  3. Age.

You may find this offensive. But, the business of business is doing business within moral and ethical standards.

Thomas had suggestions for adapting:

  1. Send in a male team, if necessary.
  2. Send in more males than females.
  3. Let men take the lead while women quietly show their competence.

An illustration:

Thomas went to India with an IBM team to lead workshops for an all-male group. The first day of their engagement, she showed up in a traditional Indian outfit, not a sari, but something that included traditional pantaloons.

The group was delighted. Thomas said, “I needed to create a very solid relationship with them so that they felt comfortable working with me”

You have to fit in before you can standout.


The ultimate goal of adapting, according to Thomas, is building relationships.

We always adapt to each other. It’s the only way we connect. Gender issues may make this an uncomfortable topic. But, it’s necessary.


The good ole boys club still exists in North America. With that in mind:

Should women dress in more masculine ways in order to fit in?

Should female leaders minimize feminine qualities and embrace more masculine qualities in order to enhance their effectiveness?