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Working With Indian Men

Working With Indian Men

February 09, 2012

Some can't look me in the eye, others salute me...but everyone has a zen-like quality unique to India.

My daughter and I had been living in Spain for 8 years when I was laid off from my job along with half the company back in May, 2010.  For almost a year I looked for a new job but Spain’s unemployment rate rose to 21% and companies were giving top-level executive positions to middle managers in an effort to cut costs.  It became clear that I could no longer provide for us in Spain and I needed to widen my search for work.  My daughter and I make important decisions together so we turned on the computer, opened up Google Maps and short-listed a handful of countries where we both felt life would be a fun adventure for us if indeed we were being forced to leave home, which was Barcelona.


And that’s where our Indian adventure –and my working with Indian men– began.  I hopped on LinkedIn and other job portals and within one week I had my first solid lead with a company looking for a chief marketing officer to launch them into 14 new markets over the next couple of years.  After a friendly email exchange with the CEO, a phone interview was setup.

From the first few seconds on the phone I liked him.  The phone is a funny thing.  Someone could be wearing fuzzy kitty slippers and still have on their bathrobe and no one would ever be the wiser.  But there is ONE thing that is 100% silent but can be detected and heard through a phone line…and that is a smile.  I could tell right away that the CEO was smiling and had a genuinely vivacious character during our first call.  The energy I was feeling across the line to India was a nice treat compared to the more serious European personalities and offered up my first sample of what was to come.

I am the first foreigner ever hired at the HQ in Bangalore at both that first job and with my current company and I am treated very well at work.  Some of the ‘special’ treatments are things that I’ve experienced at both jobs so my guess is that these are customs in India.  For example, the security guards will stand when they see me approaching – at least the first time each day and say either “hello, madam” or “good afternoon, madam”.  I find it sweet and actually really like it. Although at the first job it bothered me a bit because I already stood out so freaking much that having the security guy stand and draw more attention to me wasn’t a really welcome thing.  But now I enjoy it and hope they don’t eventually stop.

In Spain, I worked for a couple of men who had a combo of huge egos plus zero or minimal marketing experience and it actually played a huge role in our daily exchanges and made working with them a nightmare.  Yet here, my work mates and my superiors are quite different and they appreciate my experience and expect me to lead and consult every day, with no ego.  I work with hundreds of Indian men and I’m happy to say that I’ve only had an ego issue with one so far in nine months. Not bad if you ask me!

Generally speaking, Indian men don’t get right down to business. There is an inherent trait built into the men here that makes them natural conversationalists and they don’t start a meeting without some light chit-chat and banter first about personal topics to catch up a bit or nurture a relationship.  I’m more of a ‘jump right onto the agenda’ and get right down to business kind of woman so it is a bit tough at times to kick out of high gear and slow it down.

Indian men are fun to work with.  My own AMAZING team is comprised of all men so far and we form a fantastic unit.  I have never once felt any attitude like they don’t want to work for a woman and I have to admit that I wasn’t quite sure how that was going to play out given the fact that India is still a very male dominated country and women are not equals.  Unlike other countries where there is complete equality, here there are still two very different sets of rules for men and women. This is neither right nor wrong, it is what it is.  But it is something new for me and I simply wasn’t sure how it would affect me at work but it doesn’t in the least I’m happy to report.

The men here in Bangalore don’t use clothing as an extension of power – at least not like in Europe or the states where the Prada, Diesel and Hugo Boss labels dripped from my colleagues.  Here guys have a much more casual approach to dressing.  Senior players and junior team members alike look sharp at the office but without the power suit 99% of the time.  One thing that does make me half smile, half giggle though is when the guys come into work with blingy, shiny shirts that I have only ever seen at dance clubs.  Some walk in looking like John  Travolta in Saturday Night Fever! Maybe the most distinguishing physical attribute I adore is from the Hindus at work who go to early morning temple and arrive wearing a tilak.

Socializing outside work with men is almost non-existent.
Throughout Europe and in the U.S. colleagues mix and mingle without really thinking twice about it.  It can be a great way to bond and enrich the working relationship.  In fact, at my last company in Barcelona we even held an annual summer beach party with the entire company…200+ colleagues in swimming costumes with all the girls in bikinis, eating and drinking cocktails, playing football and even dancing on the beach to a DJ.  Now I just shake my head and laugh when I try to imagine that same scenario here in India.  No way!

Interestingly, tea is a part of life here more than even the UK and I love the way my male colleagues on the executive team offer up a cup of tea whenever we sit down together.
I remember being jacked up on caffeine the first week I worked in India because of the constant set of training meetings I was in with different team members…and each would act really offended if I didn’t want tea so I drank buckets of it.  Now I only say yes periodically but it still makes me smile every time a cup of tea is graciously offered to me.

Truth be told, I am treated different at work because I am white – I do know this.
But something interesting I’ve been told several times now is that because I am not Indian that I will be treated better by my superiors.  I like to believe that is actually not true. I have never personally been on the receiving end of a bad temper since my arrival but I do know that in my last company that my Indian colleagues DID experience this from time to time.  I don’t know how true the idea is or not but I find it interesting – and sad – that this is the perception of my work mates.

Understandably, Indians are different. Some appear to think in binary code, all smile more than any other group of men I’ve known…and when it comes to my Indian cohorts at work…well, they all definitely have that gentle spirit that I refer to in my article about working with Indian women.  Don’t get me wrong, they are still tough power guys but there is something calming about Indian men that I’ve just never experienced elsewhere. It’s definitely a nice change of pace.

Photo credit
: suyati.com 

15 Comments

  • Vinod
    By
    Vinod
    22.06.12 01:51 PM
    @Vini: I being a man of Indian origin should not deter me from not leaving a comment for your response. I fully agree with you that women in India face an uphill task in a work place setting than their western counterparts.I would also add that our management style also need to be tweaked in a way(I second Angela for that!)that can attract the attention,admiration and trust of the co workers. Indian management system has not changed much from the feudal approach. In today's world,it is all about team and designations are just tools to increase the focus and the productivity. Winning the confidence of Indian men is half the job and the returns would be much more than what one could ask for. I always believe that women can be very good managers in some sectors whereas men would do well in some other.I think that is not the point of discussion here. I thank Ms Vini and Ms Angela for keeping this discussion alive and fruitful!
  • Vini
    By
    Vini
    21.06.12 06:18 PM
    Dear Angela,
    Am surprised you had a good experience. Well I am a senior management person and an Indian woman. Perceptions and experiences vary so much!!! Am amazed at your article. Indian men being ego free? Am stupefied! Noway! Be it any level or experience or aptitude! A woman always has a problem working with men here in India. There are always tongues wagging and they are waiting to find something to blame their female bosses more than anything else.
    There are very few men who can accept that a woman can be a good manager that too a top level manager. There is also a definite disparity in salaries between the male and female employees of the same experience and designation.
    Am glad you have had only positive experience and wishing you all the best!
  • Angela Carson
    By
    Angela Carson
    16.03.12 10:23 AM
    @Mikey - the security guards do this, I'm sure, for the chiefs as well...but not for the middle managers or entry level positions.
  • mikey
    By
    mikey
    05.03.12 02:32 PM
    Does your secirity guard greet the indians the same way as well? Maybe you are just getting used to the slave mentality.
    Slave maentality.....inherited by ther for fathers I guess. I have seen indian waiters, managers, air hostreses behave more politely and are more courteous to a white person even if hes a drug addict hippy traveller. Sometimes..its just tooo obvious...
  • Angela Carson
    By
    Angela Carson
    24.02.12 12:43 AM
    @Ashwini - thnaks :-) (I think)

    @Jen - appreciate your comment, it is a whole new world here but I truly do love it!

    @Vinod - hey, hope all is good with you. The article is still here, the problem is the sort feature is a bit dodgy at the moment :-( And thanks, will keep posting form time to time but the comments ecosystem here on NRI have killed my spirit a bit unfortunately. Here's the link to the article: http://www.the-nri.com/index.php/2011/10/dating-relationships-and-shhhh-sex/
  • Vinod
    By
    Vinod
    16.02.12 06:52 AM
    @Jyoti Agarwal
    I fully agree with your experience as a boss.We have been 'mentally' colonized by the Britishers despite them leaving more than 60 years ago.I have high regard for Americans for the way they have come out of the shackles of British colonialism.Some Indian men may find a fellow Indian lady at the helm, difficult but may go out of the way to please a white foreigner( Excuse me Ms Angela! I am not being racial to you but the racial blot many Indian men carry in their psyche!)If a black lady happens to be the foreigner in the office, the story would have been totally different.

    @Angela: I am surprised to see that your article about 'Indian men and dating' is no more seen on this site!!!Please continue posting!
  • Jen
    By
    Jen
    12.02.12 02:12 AM
    Wow.This is the first time I'm coming across your post! And I'm amazed at how fast you've caught up with Indian men and women already! :)

    And yes,Indian men can be quiet wierd. They are scarily a blend of conservative/modern/losers/geeks/and everything!:)

    Stay safe and let your work do the talking always because Indian mouths gossip over anything. This is no offense to my fellow indians.Just being tactful about our fellow Indians from the eye of a foreigner! :)It is different but you'll sure love us.Matter of time,lady! :)
  • Ashwini
    By
    Ashwini
    11.02.12 04:29 AM
    Interesting article.
  • Angela Carson
    By
    Angela Carson
    10.02.12 03:32 PM
    @shirish - Thanks but I don't think I'd last long in the ME. I'm sure my blogging style would get me killed there, haha. I'm happy in my safe little Indian bubble here :-)

    @Anon - You've labeled it harsh for my taste but I agree with the concept... it's a strange fact but oddly so true.

    @Sampada - I meant life in general. At work I don't notice the double standard. However, with that said, the % of male to female executives in India is grossly uneven.

    @Shravan - haha, no no not at work. I get enough mistreatment when I am out on the town anyway, thank goodness work is a wonderful safe haven :-)

    @Arnab - thanks Arnab. And I will definitely keep the generalization issue in mind.
  • Arnab
    By
    Arnab
    10.02.12 10:35 AM
    Good to know about your experience Angela, but one thing for sure, Indian Men are as diverse as the country, men in Bangalore will be different from the men at Delhi, so watch out more before you generalize them
  • Shravan Bhat
    By
    Shravan Bhat
    10.02.12 12:29 AM
    Haha, I read the title of this expecting a bad story about how you were treated, objectified or cooed at. Nice to hear. Enjoy Bangalore.
  • Sampada
    By
    Sampada
    09.02.12 06:02 PM
    When you say, "India is still a very male dominated country and women are not equals. Unlike other countries where there is complete equality.." are you talking about life in general or just the work environment?
    If you were referring to work places, what gender discrimination did you see? what differences in rules did you experience?? And as for the other countries having complete equality, is it untrue that women get paid less than men? check this article
    http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1983185,00.html
    I have seen Caucasian guys who get upset if their girlfriend talks to another guy and others who wont let their wives work.. So, should I conclude that their is "complete" inequality in West?
    I would never say that we don't have gender bias but its not a huge issue at work places either.
  • Jyoti Agarwal
    By
    Jyoti Agarwal
    09.02.12 04:31 PM
    A well written article! But, unfortunately your article sound too good to be true. I have been working with Indian men for last 5 years now, and trust me they have serious ego issues dealing with a female boss. They might be nice to you just because you are the ONLY WHITE person in that office.
  • anon
    By
    anon
    09.02.12 10:41 AM
    Well, when it comes to interacting with "white skin" most of us Indian Men are subservient retards.
  • shirish patwa
    By
    shirish patwa
    09.02.12 10:35 AM
    Dear ANGELA,you seem to have overwhelmed by your Indian experience.I wish you have gone to Saudi Arabia or any other middle east country!Your experience would have taken a form of book.Even otherwise you have a sort of flavor in your writing. I enjoyed it.

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