Image of the woman in international business: ‘wife of’ or concubine?

Sadhna als tempeldanseres

Sadh(a)na as tempel dancer

With our upcoming visit to China (Changzhou) I again had to recall the misunderstanding of September 2013 when we (my husband and I) were in China.

Despite the fact that during the many meetings I had been introduced in a proper way (through a PowerPoint presentation), it appeared not to be clear that I was the wife of the CEO. The next day I asked my husband and the interpreter to appoint me during the introduction specifically as the wife of the CEO, responsible for International Affairs.

What did happen after a number of days, to my astonishment? It was indeed initially thought that I was a ‘companion’ and an intimate friend of the General Manager /CEO. After all most of the Chinese businessmen leave their wives at home and hire a ‘companion’ during business travels who accompanies him to all meetings and events. Hence I was stigmatized in this way. Maybe my Indian looks have contributed to this as well?? Who knows…

Peculiar was also that in the minutes of the meeting later in that same week I was particularly mentioned as the wife of the CEO. Our interpreter showed me the explicit Chinese characters for my further reassurance.

Are there any tips for these intercultural misconceptions?

  • No, probably not! After the initial irritation I could yet also humorously look at the image of the woman, that one has on the other side of the ocean especially if she accompanies her husband.
  • You can inquire yourself at least about the role of women in Chinese society especially in international business. After all, more and more women are occupying a high position in society. However, they do not always carry the name of their spouse, hence my double name didn’t directly give the notice about my marital status that we are used to in other parts of the world (but mostly in the Netherlands). That was my erroneous assumption.

I prefer to be the wife of ….. and my own position as an Indian Temple dancer (see picture). See also my other website.

Sadhna Meijer-Gopalrai, business counsellor | cultural coach

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