Living and Working in Bahrain

Working in a multicultural environment is inevitable in globalization. Cox and Blake et al 1991 (Seymen 2006) addressed this issue almost 20 years ago, suggesting how important it was for organisations to understand and manage cultural diversity in business. As a result, people working and living in different countries, coming from a diverse cultural background, Zakaria, Montagliani and Giacalone cited in Seyman (2006) have changed the way members of business organisations interrelate with each other. Further, cultural diversity has become an important issue in almost all organisations, creating, in some cases, well known competitive advantages but also some drawbacks when not properly managed.

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This essay will analyze a case reflecting the cross-cultural issues aforementioned. Firstly, we will present a summary of the case followed by a brief description of the countries where the case took place. Then, we will expose the identification of the main conflict and different theoretical explanations for it. We have also identified an emic concept which is central to analyze the case. Finally, we argue for the best solution for the problem.
Ellen Moore was a brilliant and reliable executive with vast experience in the financial industry in North America. Her career was successful and fast growing due to her professional skills, her devotion to her job and her ambition to continuously challenging herself with higher objectives.
By the late 80’s her husband was offered a position posted in Bahrain, so they moved to the Middle East. Ellen started working for a financial American institution but she had to work with local people. Some cultural aspects of Bahrain were very impressive to Ellen, such as the Islamic religion and the very traditional attitude towards women, but she adapted very well to the culture and she started to develop a fast growing career in Bahrain.
After two years, Ellen was asked by the General Manager (European expatriate) to join the operations area on one of two managerial positions that were available. The first one was manager of accounts control, which gave her opportunity to travel to other countries to supervise the staff. The second one was manager of customer services. She decided to accept the first position, but by the time she informed her boss about her decision he told her that the position was not available anymore. He explained that women were not allowed to travel alone to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), among other reasons that Ellen perceived as gender discrimination.
Bahrain’s business culture:
Bahrainis prefer to do business with people who they have a personal relationship with; a letter of introduction of someone they know allows them to trust you. The Bahrain business community is relatively small and your behaviour will quickly become public (issues with Ellen will be of public knowledge fast).
Relationships take time to grow, requiring several encounters. Bahrainis often touch each others while conversing to enhance communication (may be a limitation as Ellen is woman and clients may fell uncomfortable due to this issue). They tend to be indirect communicators who tell people what they think they want to hear if to do otherwise would make the other person uncomfortable. (Kwintessential 2010)
Saudi Arabia’s business culture:
Saudi executives are familiar with Western cultural but there is a high respect for Saudi customs; they are unlikely to finish any negotiation without a face-to-face and may have several initial meetings without discussed businesses. Arab people are very hospitable and make great efforts to make guests feel welcome and comfortable. When talking, Saudis tend to stand closer and employ some body contact to emphasize some points and its important not to draw back as this may be interpreted as a rebuff.
(Saudi 2010)
Doing business in Saudi Arabia is challenging for women as the gender separation is big in the Kingdom, they are expected to use very conservative dresses and for a Muslim it is uncommon to shake hands or engage in the conversational body contact with a woman. Women have virtually no role to play in the business world, thus, is hard for women business travellers to achieve a deal in the country.
(Culture 2010)
Identifying main problems and theoretical explanations
As it was mentioned in the introduction, cultural clash is one of the biggest challenges that organisations have to overcome nowadays and that is precisely the main issue of Ellen Moore´s case. Although both Ellen and her boss come from Western countries, they have different perspectives regarding Ellen´s performance as manager in Islamic countries such as KSA.
At an interpersonal level their national cultures clash, generating the conflict as mentioned by Thomas (Thomas 2008) that our nationality forms our personal identification. At an organisational level their cultures as individuals also extends to the organisation, influencing the perceptions of both subjects and their decision-making process that finally trigger a conflict of values. Thomas further adds that ¨individuals are only partly involved with their organisations, although they are totally immersed in their national cultures.¨
Analysis under Hofestede’s cultural dimensions
First, the clashing perspectives and behavior between Ellen and her boss can be explained using Hofstede´s national dimensions, i.e: Power Distance, Individualism/Collectivism, Uncertainty Avoidance and Masculinity/Femininity (Hofstede 1984). In this analysis, the fifth dimension Long- Short Term Orientation will not be considered.
In his studies, Hofstede compared a total of 53 countries (Hofstede 1984) under this dimensions. The data that he collected is a starting point to describe different national cultures. Accordingly, based on the information that Ellen is American and her boss is European (according to his behavior presumably from a country with Latin heritage), consequently the following description and comparison can be applied.
In the case of Power distance, defined as to which extent the society accepts inequality and power differences (Thomas 2008), Ellen as an American comes from a society with small-power distance, where equality is highly appreciated. On the other hand, her boss is from Europe, carries values from somewhat larger power distance society that accept inequality in a higher degree Hofstede, 1980. However, this difference are less significant for the decision making process.
Subsequently, individualism versus collectivism concept defines society depending on whether it maintains the focus on the individual or in the group Hofstede, 1980, cited by Thomas, 2008. Individualist societies, represented by Ellen, are self-determined, follow personal objectives and relay in their internal attributes to accomplish goals (Yuka Fujimoto 2004) In contrast, Ellen’s boss probably representing somewhat more collectivist values, give more emphasis on group goals than individual ones, Hofstede, 1980. He is trying to protect the organisation´s goals, also assuming that in-group perception is universally valid as some research pointed out (Yuka Fujimoto 2004).
The third dimension is uncertainty avoidance, which refers to the degree in which societies prefer structure and stability over unstructured and uncertain situations, Hofstede, 1980. The American society is characterized by a low level of uncertain avoidance. Therefore Ellen tends to be more flexible and unconventional. That is why she is not afraid of accepting a power position in countries where women normally do not exercise power. In opposition, her boss stands for a high uncertain avoidance society, and furthermore he realizes that Arab countries also share these values and are even more rigid. In countries where uncertainty avoidance is strong a feeling of “what is different is dangerous” prevails.
Moreover, Krunglanski (1989) describes this phenomenon as the need for cognitive closure (NCC). This is a desire of a certain answer instead of ambiguity. He found that individuals with high NCC (in Hofstede’s view with strong uncertainty avoidance) more often seek agreement and consensus. It can be said that Ellen´s boss is trying to avoid disagreement with the values of the society in which the organisation is inserted. This dimension sets powerful factors in defining the issue.
The final dimension refers to which extent a society identifies itself with characteristic associated to male or females. Ellen comes from a society with higher levels of masculinity that emphasis in performance, success and ambition. That is the basis of her argument: the belief that she can achieve a good performance regardless of the external difficulties. Whilst her boss represents a country higher in femininity values services and harmony. He probably does not want to cause disharmony with the customers’ beliefs by putting a woman in an important position.
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Schema, perception and decision making
Some other important issue is that both, Ellen and her boss, regardless their similar roles as expatriates and Westerners have different schema about the culture they are adjusting. Schema theory can explain this behavioral pattern because schema influence how people perceive, interpret, and act in a given circumstances (Chang 2009).
Schema is defined as a mental structure about the world gained from life’s experiences and stored in people´s mind, Bartlett cited in Chang, 2009. In this essence, although both expatriates have experienced the same culture, both have different level of mental representations which influences their way of thinking.
Therefore, Ellen, being an American expatriate woman in Bahrain experienced a lot of cultural shock in a very short period of time. This fact leads to two main factors that create different schema process of Ellen and her boss. First, the way Bahrainis treats women is different from Ellen’s original culture. Ellen experienced this especially at her initial adjustment process. Related to this, Mamman & Richards (1996) suggest that gender plays important role in expatriate’s adjustment process, although in Ellen’s case, some Bahrainis treat her differently from the way they treat Bahraini women.
The second factor that creates Ellen’s different schema is the way she encountered the problem of gender discrimination. Ellen’s personal characteristic as a high achiever has given her certain degree of optimism as well as enthusiasm in fighting the cultural pattern, at least in her surrounding environment. She, unsurprisingly, experienced a lot of cultural shock influencing her schema reformation. Research suggests that degree of culture shock increases the level of adjustment and the formation of existing schema of the expatriate managers working in different culture (Chang 2009). Therefore, she experiences different level of adjustment with her boss.
The different socio-psychological factors that are self efficacy, perceptual skills, and relational skills also influence the level of adjustment (Mamman 1996) that effect decision making process of the expatriate managers. Ellen’s success attempt in changing her colleges’ perception about her existence in Bahrain drives her to make better cultural projections of Saudi Arabia. As research suggest, individuals who achieve successful adjustment in the past will likely more optimistic to further adjustment process (Mamman 1996).
Beamer (1995) argues that prior to coming to a new culture; individuals project their schemata to fit that culture. Here, Ellen’s decision to accept the offer as the account control manager is affected by her positive culture projection of Saudi Arabia. While this happened to Ellen, different case applies to the manager, claiming his own experience in Middle East pattern of business, his cultural projection has lead his schemata about Middle East grow more to resemble with the actual condition. Unlike Ellen, his cognitive understanding leads him to decide that women in business are still somewhat unacceptable in Saudi Arabia.
Ellen Moore´s case can also be analysed under Hinner´s model of stereotyping process. Devito (2002) defines stereotyping as a certain intuition of a group of people through which new comers distinguish specific issues. According to Hinner (2010) stereotyping is a way to reduce complex information, came up with developing a process of stereotyping that involves selection, organisation, interpretation and finally evaluation, which is in fact decoding of information in a media message context. Ellen Moore’s case will be evaluated with the help of this process.
Klopf (1998) explained that people tend to select specific information to which they are exposed at any given time. In fact, people sometimes look for specific information while ignoring other details explained by Gamble & Gamble, 2005. The reason behind selected information is motivation, Hinner (2010). In case of Ellen Moore, her boss selected the environment difficulties for women working in KSA but Ellen selected success stories of women in KSA, both drive by different motivations.
Once information is selected then it is properly organized and stored in human´s brain to be used when required. For example, Ellen used her stored knowledge of a successful woman manager in KSA as an argument against her boss decision.
Hinner (2010) said that information is interpreted once being stored. Interpretation is based on what people think they can assume. Ellen Moore and her boss stored the information and interpreted in different ways based on their past experienced.
It is the analysis of the interpreted information which is affected by previous experiences and current estate of emotions Hinner (2010). Ellen´s boss withdrew the offer after evaluating his stereotype of Middle Eastern culture. On the other hand, after Ellen´s evaluation of the stereotype, she still felt capable of succeeding in KSA, but her boss decision made her think about her career inside the company from that moment on.
From all this analysis we can determinate which is the main Emic Concept affecting the entire scenario.
Identifying Emic Concept
Young defined Emic concept as an insider view about a culture/society. Emic character could be a person explaining his or her own culture on basis of his or her own experiences and learning (Young 2005).
In Ellen’s culture, women should be given equal opportunity to do whatever they want to do. In addition, women have equal rights to have and develop career, pursue education, and do activities they want to do without limitation. Any practice against this value is seen as a discrimination practice from Ellen’s perspective. Therefore, what Islamic countries such as Bahrain or KSA do to women is a discrimination practice, supported not only by men, but also by women and expatriates.
However, from these countries’ perspective the treatment they have toward women is not discrimination, but a way of protection and respect to women. For example, the limitation of working hours for women is seen as protection because all the hard work should be done by men, the head of the family as their responsibility to women (Ali 2007). If women were allowed to work at long hours, it was the sign of men’s failure in protecting the family and improving the family’s welfare.
Also, what is seen as unequal practice and limitation toward women from western’s perspective, is actually a form of respect to women existence. When asked about who is the most worthy to care in the world, Prophet Mohammad answer “mother, mother, mother, then father” Sunan Abu-Dawood in Brockwell, (2005). It is also believed that Paradise is at the feet of mothers.
The same thing happened about wearing veil and women’s inability to travel alone. Islam values marriage as a form of human nature as well as religious practice and sexual desire as private (Guindi 2005). Women’s veil is the sign of protection toward other’s men sexual desire and women’s inability to travel alone is part of the protection and privacy given to respected women.
Here is an example of Emic Concept for Islamic Point of View, Please Click on link: “”&HYPERLINK “”feature=related
According to all the analysis developed, we consider that Ellen’s Moore case solution must be under two perspectives: corporate and individual.
Corporate Perspective
Set an Organisational Culture.
Ellen Moore’s working environment is clearly a part of cultural diversity that must be managed as part of the organisation culture. So far the General Manager decision will leave the impression that “expatriate and local women would not be able to get to upper positions in the organisation”. This pointed out the need and importance of building an organisation culture that fits the culture of the country where it is inserted the business unit and that also consider the cultural differences of its members. “Organisational cultures can underscore the “working consensus” or they can express contention and difference within the organisation” Larkey & Morril (1995).
Manage cultural diversity in order to achieve a competitive advantage.
Working with multicultural groups has a potential to achieve competitive advantages through a powerful organisational culture. Several studies have shown that cultural synergies among workers are the best way to achieve a competitive advantage. Moreover surveys states that teams composed from member from diverse cultures can accomplish better business resolution. (Seymen 2006)
Even more, Ellen has stated over the case study that she accomplished several good business practices after finding the right way to work with people from other cultures. Therefore this competitive advantage goal should be set as a priority and global objective for international organisations.
Equipped managers with the appropriate tools and skills to lead a diversity culture.
Diverse leadership, understood as the leader that can lead in a positive manner with multicultural environment, should also be a practice that managers of organisations must accomplish. Ellen learned how to become a diverse leader, becoming the link of their colleges with the upper managers. Therefore organisations should train and give the necessary skills to their managers (at all level) to become more successful at the moment of dealing with cultural diversity. (Oluremi B. Ayoko 2006)
Individual Perspective
In the case was mentioned that Ellen declared that she always told her employees that if one day they realise that they didn´t like their job and the problem was with the company she would help them write their resume. Based on this argument, it can be presumed that Ellen will decide to leave the company because the organisational values and culture don’t fit her own set of values anymore and this can affect her performance. Thomas (2008) says that according to some studies a match between national and organisational culture increase job satisfaction and commitment (Larkey & Morril, 1995).
According to Hosftede’s (1984) cultural dimension, Ellen´s characteristics as an American are prevalent and overlap with the culture of the organisation which in turn gives greater prominence to the host country culture.
By leaving the company, Ellen will be in accordance with her values and her schema. She has enough skills and experience to find a job in another company that she can manage and adapt in a better way to the organisational values and the local culture.

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