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The geisha girls on Wall Street

Decoding culture is one of the greatest challenges of global business.

Are you reading the right nuances? Can you fully understand what's happening across the table? Do you understand the history, the context, the subtext?

Most companies struggle with the concept. But few fail as spectacularly as Japanese securities firm Nomura Holdings reportedly has.

According to this must-read story in today's Wall Street Journal (sorry, it's behind their firewall), Normura has been having trouble integrating the cultural and business differences with Lehman Brothers, the failed U.S. investment bank it bought last September.

That's something of an understatement. Here's how Journal reporter Alison Tudor put it in her lead, which says it all:

"Japanese brokerage firm Nomura Holdings Inc. kicked off a training session for new hires in April by separating the men and women. The women, including Harvard graduates hired by Lehman Brothers before it collapsed, were taught how to wear their hair, serve tea and choose their wardrobes according to the season, say executives who fielded a complaint about the session."

It only goes downhill from there.

"Some Nomura managers interpreted strictly the company's dress code for women. They told women joining from Lehman to remove highlights from their hair, to wear sleeves no shorter than midbicep and to avoid brightly colored clothing, according to several people who joined from Lehman. Several women were sent home from the trading floor for dressing inappropriately, these people say.

"'I was sent home for wearing a short-sleeve dress, even though I was wearing a jacket,'" says one woman who says she plans to leave as soon as she receives her final guaranteed bonus payment."