Discrimination and Cultural Differences in Partnerships

6 min.

All people involved in international business have a legal right to receive equal treatment and therefore, discrimination of any kind is a crime. Discrimination can be defined as the denial of basic rights to certain groups of people based on prejudice. People may be treated different in the same situation because the discriminator attributes certain characteristics to a person because of their belonging or perceived belonging to a particular group, such as race, nationality, gender or religion.

The Equality Act prohibits discrimination based on ethnic or national origin, citizenship, language, religion, personal beliefs, opinions, state of health, physical disability, sexual orientation or any other reason. Discrimination often results in restricted opportunities, special treatment and ungrounded perception of reality.

Business and Gender

Discrimination affects and influences business relationships as well. Today we are often faced with gender discrimination at work. An article in the New York Times about women in tech and IT, quotes a Harvard Business School study stating that 56% of females leave the field mid-career because of gender discrimination. This is a sad reality but the business world is changing thanks to efforts such as the Tech Girls Movement (Australia), Women in Technology (USA), Korea Federation of Women’s Science & Technology Associations (KOFWST), etc. Business giants see women as powerful business players, and one example is the partnership between Microsoft Indonesia and Indonesia Business’s Women Association, as well as Microsoft Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy conjoint conference DigiGirlz aimed to support women in IT.

Culture and It's Effects on Business Reputations

If we consider the sphere of information technology, some people may be cautious approaching potential African partners, as their reputation is sadly marred by 419 scams, a type of fraud based on confidence tricks. Since many people have had a negative experience with such scams, they may project their prejudice on all proposals coming from Africa.

Culture also plays a role: African pace of life is different, and working together on outsourced IT projects may be more effort-consuming than with a similar culture. Many business people give up before they give a partnership any chance or don’t do business with Africa at all.

This is the example of not understanding the other side, not trying to leave differences aside and discriminating against a large part of the world based on previous negative experience or widely believed (but ungrounded) preconceptions. To avoid this, business partnership should be based on objective reality, be well-researched and prepared, grounded in fact and be concentrated on the core similarities between the parties, not differences.

The situation with Africa is slowly changing for the better. Startup competitions such as PIVOT East, Apps4Africa and 88mph help budging IT leaders find partners for development and re-establish the reputation of African IT. Many international tech conferences (AfricaCom, Tech4Africa, eLearning Africa, etc.) and award ceremonies (ParTech Inc. Awards) help bring Africa and Europe together.

Do We Need A Partnership?

So do we need partnerships? And if we do, how do we avoid or minimize the chance of failure?

A partner is a person who shares their moral and material responsibility for the business overall. Partners should be confident in their joint actions, believe that their moves are timely and correct. And to succeed they should leave whatever differences they have at the door and concentrate on the basic values shared by all humanity.

Mutual benefit is at the core of each partnership. At times in business, we have to cope with different situations in which people (sometimes even the same people) behave very differently, and we lose sight of the essence of the partnership, caught in the details. It helps to have patience and continue to collaborate with partners who may not meet expectations at first, but can prove to be mutually beneficial in the end. If business people tend to generalize and base their decisions on a single negative experience, any potential benefit that can be obtained later may be lost forever.

East and West

Partnerships and their development specifics differ in the East and West. Business formation and development in different countries largely depend on economic and political conditions. Successful development is possible with the dominance of the market economy, but even then, the differences between cultures may present specific challenges.

If you are planning to work with China, for example, you will have to learn the specifics of Chinese law and what it dictates on partnerships with Western companies. If you work in China on a permanent basis, you will abide by the Chinese legal system constantly, and have to be prepared for a certain level of suspicion towards the West. It is well known that the Chinese legal system is complex and cumbersome, but the time spent on its careful examination and business strategy planning will pay off later. Choosing the most lucrative type of business to do in China may result in tremendous success.

For China partnerships with foreign companies are a chance to learn from the West while also sharing its 20-year tech park expertise with the world (China has more than 150 federal tech parks). Two different economy approaches, may create an interesting symbiosis. This may be the case in the Chinese Tsinghua Science Park (TusPark) partnership with Russian Skolkovo, where China is building a tech park and innovation center for Russia.

Russia, which combines both eastern and western traditions within one large nation, has always been viewed as a unique place to do business. Russian business is characterized by a high level of competition, corruption, unprofitable investments and collectivism. Serving a collective interest is a priority in the minds of the Russian people, while in the West the priority may be often given to individuality. In business, it is important to be able to navigate these discrepancies and find the golden middle between the two approaches. Russian collectivism coupled with Western rationalism may bring amazing business results. Russian IT specialists visit the Silicon Valley where they benefit from master classes with millionaire investors who share expertise and advice with them. Some of their projects have already gained interest with American investors.

Four Eyes Are Better Than Two

Business is the sphere of activity where discrimination and the division of people into categories can be extremely damaging and have long-lasting negative effects not only on individual companies but on whole economies. It is best to approach partnerships between different cultures with the following questions: “What do I get from the cooperation with this company? What can I give in return? How do we make a good deal out of this? ”

Business decisions should be made only after carefully answering those questions. Compromise is not for everyone, of course, and for some people, it may be impossible to work with this or that person or company; too much stress involved may not be worth it. Others, however, will learn to abandon their personal opinions and beliefs for the sake of the common business goal.

In a global economy, people have to learn to combine various philosophies and world outlooks in order to achieve success. The proverb “Four eyes are better than two” may prove to be the right wisdom for our times: sometimes the combination of seemingly disparate cultures may be just what the doctor ordered for our fast-changing multi-faceted world.