With a multicultural lens and a deep sense of curiosity, recent Foster graduate Giselle Antoine researches shame cultures and their organizational impact. The Global Business Center’s Kirsten Aoyama recently interviewed Antoine to learn how her interest in intercultural communication led her to complete a PhD in M&O at Foster, what’s next for her research and teaching, and key takeaways for business leaders.
Q: How did you end up in the Foster Phd program?
A: After I did my undergrad in English and comparative literature, I got a job teaching English in Saudi Arabia. It was a fun time to be in Saudi, because the society is very much in transition. Young women are getting opportunities that their mothers didn’t have. Still, Riyadh is probably one of the most conservative metropolitan cities. The other thing that was fascinating is that there were people from all over Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
My transition to management education stemmed partly from teaching in a business school. I stepped into some management positions in which I was the go-between from the mostly Western English faculty to the mostly Arab administration. I would have to explain to Western staff why policies were important and the values behind them. I got really curious: Why are we so different in terms of what we expect from leaders?
The Dean of that business school gave me a Hofstede book, and also the GLOBE book, and invited me to help on a research project. I kept doing research projects with faculty, but I had a very limited skill set for doing that research independently. It became pretty obvious that I needed to do a PhD.
In terms of Foster, there are several faculty who’ve done cross-cultural research. All the faculty are very good at what they do. There were certain faculty, like Xiao-Ping Chen that I thought, if I get to work with this person, this is going to be the most amazing thing ever!
Q: Did you need to speak Arabic to be able to navigate your workplace effectively?
A: It was certainly helpful. People love to see an American or Westerner who’s taken the time to learn some of their language.
Q: Can you tell me more about the cultural differences you observed in the workplace?
A: A leader would make a decision without asking the members of the department for any insight, and my Arab colleagues would say, “he’s such a great leader.” With annual reviews, the department leader would nitpick little things. My Western colleagues and I would come out thinking, “we haven’t had a conversation all year, I feel like you’re just criticizing me.” I feel like my Arab colleagues didn’t think that. There’s an expectation that your superior has greater insight. It’s expected that they’re going to criticize you. Those experiences were insightful for me about assumptions that we have about what good leadership is.
Q: Tell me more about specific research interests and how those were realized in your time at Foster.
A: I came in with a budding interest in guilt and shame cultures. When I came to Foster, I took Mike Johnson’s Affect, Mood and Emotions class. Mike really loved the idea of guilt and shame cultures and thinking about what that would look like in an organization, and we began an ongoing conversation about it.
And then my work with Crystal Farh was about what shaming is like for observers who witness it as a socialization mechanism. I did interviews with members of the armed forces. I connected with a professor in China through Xiao-Ping, and he collected data broadly across industries in China to support some of my hypotheses.
Q: What did you discover that would be useful to current global business practitioners?
A: A lot of the literature in psychology and management journals focuses on this idea that guilt is good, shame is bad. I found that idea difficult, because it suggests that this whole part of the world, including a lot of East Asian countries as well as Africa and South America, are doing everything wrong when it comes to how they socialize their children, how they manage organizations, how they manage people at a societal level. Shame is experienced very negatively in a Western context. It can, however, be functional in other parts of the world. People can respond very positively to socialization and punishment around it. They can even see it as being right, as being a good thing.
I asked if people ever think that using shame as a punishment is acceptable. That, in itself, is a really important takeaway for managers and leaders – I did find cases where it can be useful and functional, but there are a lot of situations where it isn’t and it will very likely backfire.
Q: Thinking about the multicultural US workforce, managers aware of the cultural backgrounds of their employees and these emotions might be better equipped to get desired outcomes.
A: Absolutely, yes. There’s an industry effect, too. We see more use of shaming in the armed forces, police, and firefighters. We see it more in professional sports – anytime when one individual’s performance is tied very tightly to other people’s performance, or when people’s performance is on display.
Q: What is next now that you’re at Washington University’s Olin School?
A: I’m very excited! The full-time MBA program at Olin added a global immersion program that every student goes through, and the MBA student population is very international.
I’m continuing to do research. I have a paper looking at Covid policies around masking and shame from a gender perspective. I have other work on eating in the workplace – eating can be riddled with guilt and shame. I also have some work with Elizabeth Umphress about shaming as a response to discriminatory comments in the workplace.
A PhD student at Olin is doing work on shaming as well. We’re going to put together a symposium at the upcoming Academy of Management Conference.
Antoine’s research while in the PhD program was partially supported by the U.S. Department of Education Centers for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) program. The UW Foster School Global Business Center is one of 16 federally-designated CIBERs.