David M. Russell

That’s no way to treat a lady!

In Commentary on July 30, 2009 at 2:51 pm

The Japanese are remarkable people. They place such a premium value on refinement and cultural sensibility. In social settings they will excuse the most uncultured and even boorish behaviour by foreigners, albeit their ‘tolerance’ can easily be regarded as arrogance and haughtiness. Even so, you have to wonder at their inability to translate their forbearance in social contexts to business ones as has been dramatically highlighted recently.

The situation concerns the absorption of many American staff of collapsed finance house, Lehman Brothers which was one of the key triggers of the Global Financial Crisis. Japanese brokerage house, Nomura, recruited 8000 Lehman staff and then set about integrating the two cultures. What happened next could be funny if it weren’t serious.

A suite of executive training was prepared but when the ex-Lehman staff turned-up they were surprised to be divided along gender lines. The male executives were taught about all things commercial. The female executives, however, got a very different surprise. The women were given hairdressing lessons along with instructions that special touches such as highlights were a no-no. They were also told how to dress according to the seasons but the instructions went much further. The women were told they must not wear sleeves shorter than mid-bicep (at least one executive reported being sent home subsequently for breaching this mandate).

Another edict was that bright coloured clothes were also not permitted. But perhaps it was when they were instructed in the art of serving tea (to male colleagues and superiors) that things really went off the rails. Accurate reporting of the scenes that eventuated are not available but it’s fun just imaging a horde of high-powered female American executives being instructed in misogynist practices to please men.

Perhaps not surprisingly a good many of the Lehman women have decided their future no longer lies with Nomura. You can only hope that the training sessions were filmed for quality assurance purposes because they’d prove a monster hit on YouTube.

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