The Washington Post published an interesting piece last week, “How can it pay off for women to work abroad.” It offers an interesting perspective not only for the increase leadership skills and responsibility that can come along with working abroad, but some of the specific cultural issues that might come along when women find positions overseas, specifically in the private sector.
The article highlights an important lesson for anyone interested in becoming an expatriate: knowing the cultural norms and intricacies of a host country can provide invaluable insight into finding ways to be successful. Just like a job in your host country, cultural nuances and organizational fit can help determine how to navigate your job, and your company’s organizational structure. Working in an unfamiliar country, which may have gender roles different from what you are used to, makes awareness of these issues all the more important.
For example, many countries abroad, especially those in the Eastern Asia and the Middle East, may not have as many local women in positions of power. This is something that is rapidly changing across the globe, but every region changes at its own pace. It may take some time for colleagues to get used to a woman on board, but if you were hired by a company to do a job, you can feel confident that they feel that you were the right person to do it – regardless of your gender. A position overseas might require some extra patience, and have a slower learning curve, but the rewards are great.
The easiest way to become more aware of these norms is through research, not only online, but through face to face and telephone conversations with other women who might have gone through a similar experience. Expats living in your host country can provide a wealth of knowledge gained through their own stories and insights, that can help you acclimated to your new surroundings.
Another interesting point in the article is that 50% of the expats living and working abroad are between the ages of 20-39 – also known as Generations X and Y. This likely means that at least 50% of the readers of this blog probably fit that profile. Just as there are special things for women to consider when accepting positions abroad, young people can also encounter working styles and expectations that are different from what they might find at home.
According to the Human Resource Executive Online, Generations X & Y require a more flexible work style and schedule than the generations before them. They put more focus on finding time to spend with family, and they looking for careers that carry some meaning in their personal lives. But like many countries still on the far side of the gender gap, overseas jobs may not have caught up to the young workforce yet in terms of providing a work environment that suits their needs. But the good news is, things are changing. The “classic model of an expatriate employee willing to work 75 or more hours per week with a demanding travel schedule” is shifting, placing much more emphasis on work/life balance.
In Transtitions Abroad’s Expats Survival Guide, a working abroad woman in Italy offers some “survival tips” for working in a powerful position. This starts with a fair number of resources to go research about the gender gap in various countries around the world – so if you don’t know exactly where you’d like to pursue your international career, you might take some time to choose a country that is more progressive in it’s roles for women in the workplace.
Another great piece of advice from the article involves knowing your limits – both in and out of the workplace. The author mentions that unreliability of many elements of transportation and infrastructure in developing countries, as well as some insight about how it might feel to have your holidays and vacations alone in a strange new place. To some, this might sounds like a great adventure and you might not want to wait to hop on a place to get to work abroad! Each person making the decision to work overseas should make it with these issues in mind, as well as consideration for the position itself.
Of course, there are just as many, if not more, benefits working abroad for women, especially in business. According to Ms. Rezvani’s article: 85 percent of those who “moved up by moving away” agreed international experience accelerated their careers; 78 percent agreed that it had a significant, positive impact on compensation; and 71 percent agreed they were given greater responsibility earlier on.
But with all of this increased responsibility can also come increased workload, longer hours, and less time to enjoy your new home. Working abroad almost always means a drastic change in lifestyle, which can be compounded by a higher-pressure job. However, this will surely pay off if and when you decide to return home, where you can demand higher wages and a more senior position based on your experience.