5 tips expatriate women need to succeed

by | Feb 13, 2016

How can expatriate women guarantee success

At one time women became expats frequently as a trailing spouse. That was my own experience and not a decision I would recommend unilaterally today.  Currently only about 16% of international assignments are taken by women. [Tweet "Overseas assignments have been identified as being a key factor to career success"] So more and more expatriate women are pursuing international stretch assignments independently, within their own companies. and as part of a development strategy for personal and professional growth. As businesses globalize, so the demand for international and multi-cultural  talent and experience is valued.

Expatriate women

How expatriate women can succeed

Other women are pursuing expat assignments completely on their own, without the support of a relationship or organization. These women may want to experience another culture, business model, or simply travel to new destinations.

Megan Jones is one such adventurer and describes her experience as an expat in Paris as "hard, but rewarding"  Re-locating to France straight from Business School, without expatriate re-location from an organisation support 2 years ago she commented,"You simultaneously have to rely on yourself, while finding the courage to reach out for support in the darkest hour you don’t want anyone to see you and you are already quite isolated." She is now permanently based in Paris in a job she loves and spends her free time travelling.

Mary Lynn Ziemer, Master Coach, now based in Florida, spent 5 years in Brussels, in a leadership role for a Belgian Telco company.

"Overall we loved our international experience  and the extensive  travel opportunity it afforded us. But most of all, we found that the more we held an adventurer's mind set, the more we enjoyed the experience."

Different challenges

[Tweet " More women are now pursuing international stretch assignments, within their own companies. "] How this works will depend on the nature of the assignment, the location and the time in her life. Some situations offer a seamless transition. Others can be more complex, especially if the assignment is located in a country with a very different culture and different language. Many things that women may take for granted in their home country, may require special attention; dress norms, safety and personal space, are all challenges women mention about expat assignments in the Middle East and Asia for example.

[Tweet "If a woman is relocating with children as well as her job, she has another set of challenges."] When the assignment is led by the woman's career, she may frequently end up covering a dual role of revenue generator, as well as the C.D.O (Chief Domestic Officer.) This frequently comes with a S.T.U.D. (Spouse Trailing Under Duress) as the couple kicks stereotypical norms.

Mary Lynn  remembers that well: "My 12-year-old twins were blessed to have each other to ease their transition to a small international school. It took 6 months or so for them to really settle in. But my trailing spouse probably found it most difficult of all, as an unemployed male in a very traditional society, where the husband financially provides for the family. Finding a group of men in similar circumstances to spend time with on a regular basis definitely helped."

Maintaining a leadership role

[Tweet "Transitioning to a new role overseas is rewarding, but can be challenging."] Most companies that send an employee on an international posting are making a significant investment, so they want it to work. It's important to onboard into the new role as rapidly as possible and achieve peak performance, as well as a rapid  assimilation into a new environment.

Mary Lynn  told me "As a female leader in an executive operational capacity I was in an unusual position. Not only did it require I learn a new language, but the field was dominated by men not used to women with high level expertise and confidence. I learned quickly not to take things personally, or to make assumptions based on my own cultural expectations.  [Tweet "It required intensive listening skills, flexibility and a positive open attitude."]

And while I often felt like the "odd woman out" I certainly relied on my own inner strength and persistence in moving forward to achieve the goals that I had set for myself, and committed to."

If your company needs executive and leadership coaching for the women in your organisation, contact 3Plus

The structure of the workplace will usually make the professional changeover trouble-free, even into a new company. Very often the most frustrating situations are caused by every day things going wrong. I have seen grown women weep because they can't get electricity connected or can't complete all the bureaucratic paperwork that is usually required as an expat, or communicate in the supermarket.

5 tips expatriate women need to succeed

1. Negotiate  a relocation company and coach or mentoras part of your sign-on package, as well as language classes if relevant.

2. Join networks in advance of your move via social media. Networks for women are invaluable and provide a nest of like-minded people both men and women who have walked in your shoes. They will supply a wealth of information and short cuts to help you overcome any problems.

Mary Lynn's input would be: "Participating in some educational and cultural training in advance is a must for anyone relocating internationally. But nothing taught us better than just throwing ourselves into our new life with an open-minded curiosity and awe of experiencing something different without the need to be perfect at it. The more we asked for help when we needed it the more we found ourselves making new friends."

3. Be patient. It takes time as much as 9-12 months to completely settle down. [Tweet "Embrace all the changes and don't compare your new situation to the old one."]

4. Don't go home in the first 6 months at least. Many find that unsettling. Invite friends and family to visit you. Travel to new places instead and embrace the adventure.

5. Stay connected to HQ. Out of sight can be out of mind for an international assignment. At the same time as distancing personal contacts during a settling in period, it's also a good idea to be constantly on the radar of the main decision makers in the corridors of power. If an expat assignment is part of a planned career strategy, then having an annual plan is imperative, to prepare for either the next move, or a return to base. Working with a coach, with personal international transition experience will be hugely beneficial.

However it's done, pursuing an overseas assignment is a rich and rewarding experience for anyone who takes the plunge.

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.
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