Realizing dialogue is the foundation from which we can solve myriad problems, Dialogue on Diversity Inc., a Washington, DC-based educational organization, sponsored its first Legislative Issues Symposium for women leaders from public-service, nonprofit and business sectors earlier this year.
The round-table meeting, which founder Cristina Caballero plans to make an annual event, tackled issues such as education, health care, the federal budget and affirmative action-all from the perspective of the often underrepresented constituency of ethnic women.
"We're encouraging entrepreneurs of all nationalities to actively participate in the developing political system," explains Caballero. "Certain doors need to be opened. We don't just want a piece of the pie because we're different. But there are still things we haven't learned and ways we aren't included."
Ranking the legislative issues of greatest concern to minority women, Dialogue on Diversity determined that the most important issues are health care, the federal budget, women as leaders in political and social action, education, and affirmative action. Caballero is compiling a report of the views raised at the symposium, which will be presented to the president.
Yet merely getting the report in the right hands isn't going to satisfy Caballero. "We want [these petitions] to be not only heard," she says, "but responded to."
Barb King learned about discrimination the hard way. Back in the early '80s, as president of Delano, Minnesota-based Landscape Structures, a company that designs and manufactures park and playground equipment, King and her husband met with a group of Japanese distributors. She was surprised to find that at their first meeting, the Japanese men announced that they'd decided it was "OK for Mrs. King to attend all the business meetings."
Unfortunately, it's a fact of life that American women still have to deal with prejudice and discrimination in many countries where they do business. "Discrimination is one of the challenges women are going to face no matter where they do business in the world," says Tracey Wilen, co-author with Chris Brannen of Asia for Women on Business and author of Doing Business With Japanese Men: A Woman's Handbook (both StoneBridge Press). "After all, the United States is the most progressive [country], and yet discrimination still exists here."
According to Wilen, ably handling discrimination starts with being prepared. Before heading overseas, educate yourself about the country's history and cultural background and what attitudes you can expect to encounter. Getting an introduction from top management of other companies you have dealt with in that country may help. Sending a videotape showing yourself and your employees-along with your resume and brochures outlining your company's merits-should also gain you some respect in advance of your visit.
Discrimination didn't stop King. Those distributors are now her business partners-and, after more than 10 years of dealing with them, King's experiences couldn't be more different. "I think they acknowledge [women in business], but at times, it's difficult for them to comprehend it," she says. "Now they are very respectful of me."-Lynn Beresford
Dialogue on Diversity Inc., 1730 K St. N.W., #304, Washington, DC 20006, (703) 631-0650;
Landscape Structures, 601 Seventh St. S., Delano, MN 55328, (612) 972-3391.