Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gender, Culture and Business Spanish

by Ann Abbott

During the first weeks of my Business Spanish class this semester, we talked about globalization, culture and the connections between the two. Here are the steps I took:

1. Recall and analyze students' own experiences. Students in the class who haven't studied or travelled abroad had to interview students who had and ask them for examples of culture shocks they had experienced. After going through that exercise, students had to choose one example of a culture shock and analyze its possible importance in business contexts.

2. Define terms. I asked students to read this page at so that we would share a common definition of globalization and related concepts.

3. Explore a case. I spent about ten minutes telling students the story of my brother-in-law's, Giuseppe's, business. How he started out in Italy, near Milan, running a small sewing factory to supply the pret a porter sector. Once a flourishing industry throughout the valley where he lived, the high cost of labor (among other factors, of course) led Giuseppe and almost all the other small-business owners of this type to close shop. Specifically, I mentioned that in an industry that hired almost all women, the generous maternity leave packages were in some ways difficult for a small business owner to manage.

Eventually, with two partners, Giuseppe opened a larger sewing factory in Hungary. His two partners lived in Italy and pursued contracts with a different part of the fashion industry--large brand names with mass apeall and lower prices, like Benetton. They imported machines for the factory and fabric for the outfits; the workers cut, sewed, ironed, packaged and shipped the clothes; sometimes, in Italy, the clothes would undergo one more step--sewing on a small item, perhaps--and then carry a label stating "Made in Italy." Giuseppe married a Hungarian, Noemi, and they now have a daughter.

In the meantime, Hungary's entrance into the European Union brought changes to their business, and it, again, became increasingly expensive to run with declining profit margins--if any at all sometimes. He and his partners then opened a larger factory in the Ukraine where they make, among other things, leather outfits for motorcross riders. Although the Ukrainian economy has obviously modernized in the meantime, at the beginning, the factory workers asked to be paid in food items instead of currency that tended to lose its value. Still today, my brother-in-law leaves his family in Hungary and goes to the Ukraine almost every week to oversee operations. When he enters the Ukraine, he rides with security--it is true that bandits own parts of highways--and he eats and sleeps in the factory for security reasons. On more than one occassion political corruption has reared its ugly--and expensive--head, forcing its way into the day-to-day business operations.

4. Analyze the case. I put the class into three groups. Group 1 had to make a list of at least five specific examples of globalization in this story. Group 2 had to make a similar list, but of cultural practices or products in the story. Group 3 had to make a list of specific things that university students can do to prepare themselves for this type of global work scenario.

5. Focus on gender issues.
I will follow up with these activities by asking students to focus on issues of gender in the sewing/fashion industry and in globalization in general. Here are some key resources and questions:
  • A New York Times piece on working mothers' rights in Italy.
  • This brief piece by my friend and colleague, Prof. Gale Summerfield, about women's rights in developing nations.
  • This factoid from the Aug/Sept issue of Working Mother: "DID YOU KNOW? Women in Iraq receive a full year of government-mandated paid maternity leave. Women in the U.S. receive no mandated paid leave; it's up to their employers." (p. 16)
  • Question: How do different cultures' attitudes about gender and motherhood affect globalization efforts? And how does globalization affect cultural attitudes about gender and motherhood?
  • Question: In public discourse in the US, you will often hear (directly or indirectly) that that Western/Christian cultures are "advanced" and Middle Eastern/Muslim cultures are "backwards." How would you reply to that, given the information that you have just seen? Can you understand the point of view of other countries/cultures that want to protect themselves from the imposition of US cultural practices as globalization takes hold?

Do you have any resources or questions that you would add to the list? Leave them here in a comment!


  1. I loved this post Ann and the lesson plan around it. You give me inspiration!

  2. I'm glad, Marcos! I love coming up with lesson plans, and I know you also make great ones. :) I hope you start blogging again soon.