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back to index backGLOBALtalk October,  2005

Making the most of your assignment

What is really being done? Maximizing the success of women on overseas assignments, part 2


Family Matters

Partner satisfaction and overall family concerns have consistently been documented as the number one greatest cause of assignment failure. Why then did most of the respondents in this study still feel that their MNC had done little to nothing to prepare their families when relocating overseas? MNCs did offer assistance to a few with work permits, visas, and finding a job. However, not one offered formal in-country support networks or mentors for family members. And little was offered in the way of spouse/partner work assistance. The topic of dual career couples continues to be labeled a "hot button", as MNCs witness employees hesitating over overseas assignments based on their spouse/partner's career choices.

Dr. Anne P. Copeland, Executive Director of The Interchange Institute, has found in her extensive research on female spouses/partners that companies offering career support services to spouses receive big returns on this investment through having more satisfied and better adjusted families. Women who found ways to protect their professional identities - even, in some cases, in the absence of paid employment - considered their international assignments successful, while those suffering losses in professional identity were quite unhappy.

Although very little has been documented on male spouses, they are slowly creating a name for themselves. The loss of professional identity that male spouses encounter, as well as the isolation and unconventional stresses related to being a minority in a foreign country, are beginning to be taken more seriously by MNCs than they have been for female spouses.

Respondents in this study did still find that MNCs provided very little support for their spouse/partner. Fortunately, some of the family support received was given to those who had children and teens. Flexible time off and financial support for school tuition and fees were the most common types of support provided. Cross-cultural training for children/teens was only offered to a handful of respondents. Most rated their families' adjustment, despite the lack of company support, as fairly good.

Support provided by family members towards the women expatriates was rated as excellent! Family support and encouragement was critical to the overall success of the women's overseas assignment. Almost all respondents agreed that without the support from their families, both the immediate family network as well as the broader family circle, the challenges of an overseas assignment would have been even more demanding. Many felt that being with family in a foreign environment made all the difference. Spouses made an extra effort to help out with chores and traveled along on business trips. Children soaked up knowledge and languages like sponges and were enriched by the new cultures around them, resulting in proud parents. It is for these reasons, and many more, that MNCs need to make critical changes in increasing the support that they provide women expatriate's spouses/partners and children/teens.


And Where Do We Go From Here?

Failing to provide women expatriates and their families with a variety of resources and support systems deprives women of avenues of success on global assignments. The good news is that most of the respondents felt that their MNC had provided some form of support, whether it was financial, practical, emotional, logistical, social or cultural. This does not mean that more is not needed. Yet, it indicates that MNCs are beginning to see the value of fully preparing women expatriates and their families, by providing enough support for a successful overseas assignment. Women expatriates need to be proactive in making sure their needs are met. An overwhelmingly strong voice of encouragement came from the respondents when asked to provide tips for other women interested in obtaining, or who had already accepted an overseas assignment.

According to "Passport to Opportunity - US Women in Global Business," the study conducted by Catalyst (a nonprofit research and advisory services organization working to advance women in business), women tend to succeed in the business world by seeking out difficult assignments and having influential mentors. What tends to hold them back from top management positions is male stereotyping and preconceptions of women, exclusion from informal networks of communication, and lack of influential mentors. MNCs are becoming more aware of the facts underlining the lack of women expatriates in the global workforce. The next move needs to be a joint effort between women interested in an overseas assignment and MNCs ready to send them overseas. Both need to be ready to listen and communicate with one another so that the phrase "women expatriates" is no longer an anomaly.


Tips for Women Expats from Women Expats

Go for it!

Be assertive, persistent and proactive.

Ask for what you need and want.

Find a female mentor.

Use your resources.

Negotiate carefully before accepting anything.

Assess the workload beforehand.

Do your own research.

Learn the local language.

Be yourself.



Tips for MNCs

Select the very best person regardless of gender - be open to sending women on overseas assignments

Notice each potential woman expatriate's characteristics, skills, and knowledge, and routinely evaluate how these can best be used on an overseas assignment.

Promote women expatriates as your most qualified "expert" and "valuable resource" for the job.

Encourage company support to come from regional directors as well as from managers at MNC headquarters.

Prepare women expatriates for their new experience beforehand by providing them and their entire family with a cross-cultural training program.

Offer in-country support networks, mentor programs, and company policies supporting women on overseas assignments.

Support the entire family, including the spouse/partner as well as the children and teens, during the entire assignment.

Arrange for repatriation discussions and support to take place before sending women expatriates and their families back home.

Facilitate family support amongst women expatriates and their immediate families.

Listen to women expatriates' experiences and learn from one another.

Source: Deloitte Global InTouch” newsletter

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Other articles from the same issue (October,  2005).

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The different management skill-sets in Germany, the U.S., and Asia
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Practical tips for protecting intellectual property in China
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Making the most of your assignment
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Multinationals revising long-term incentive programs for executives outside the U.S.
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Complying with PRC anti-bribery laws
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Relocating to China: Meeting the challenges head on
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Language Training 101
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