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Dual Careers in the 21st Century
Dont leave your career behind when you move
By Mary van der Boon
(this article first appeared in Woman Abroad)
Just how behind is International Human Resources (IHR) in addressing the dual career issue? A recent quote from a Fortune 200 company (with five hundred expats in ninety-five countries) HR representative:
"Our expat policies are designed for the man, going to London, with a wife who doesn't work. Who's going to London? We're sending people to Beijing, Bangkok, Sao Paolo, Prague , where they don't speak English, there is a security problem, and my wife wants to work! Our target markets are emerging markets, where security, the "roof over your head," and a happy spouse/family have a lot to do with our executives' success and therefore, with our success."
Were mad as hell ..
While women make up fewer than 12% of expatriate executives, they do account for 85% of partners accompanying overseas assignees. The unfortunate reality is that the vast majority of these partners, regardless of whether or not they were employed before they went overseas, will not be able to find paid employment during their tenure abroad. Spouses dont communicate their difficulties to the HR departments (often out of fear of jeopardizing their partners career) so many companies dont feel the impact, or see the problem. An estimated 50% of all foreign assignments are refused, however, because of the dual career factor, and this trend is growing. A survey conducted by the Foreign Trade Council 120 Fortune among 500 companies revealed that 88% of respondents indicated that dual-career issues would become more acute in the near future. Another sign of increased awareness is the recent European Commission decision to integrate dual-career issues in its action plan to increase mobility within the European Union.
In research conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers among 270 international organisations employing 65,000 expatriates, 80% of the companies reported major, and increasing, difficulties in recruiting executives to go overseas. According PWC International, "getting people to accept international assignments remains a challenge. Reasons for refusal range from family issues, the lack of support proposed to manage dual careers and the reality of longer-term career management. In addition, the factors rated least highly by companies when selecting people for assignments, such as issues relating to partners adaptability and dual career management, are most likely to be the cause of failed assignments".
Responsive corporate HR policies on spousal and family issues are essential. Premature repatriation and poor job performance have serious financial consequences in international business. In the just-published findings of the GMAC/Windham International Global Relocation Trends 2000 Survey, partner satisfaction and family concerns are the top two factors leading to assignment failure. And yet, only 23% of these companies provide assistance in finding employment for the accompanying spouse.
And were not going to take it anymore
"Partners of expatriates are very cynical regarding what they call the lip service paid to their predicament," says Barbara Fitzgerald-Turner, President of Human Resources Strategies in Kensington, MD. "They indicate there is little or no recognition or appreciation for their situation. And when employers do offer assistance, trailing spouses often discover that the assistance promised is of little value. When FOCUS (a resource centre for expatriates) surveyed its London members, only 11 percent of trailing partners received any career support. With high unemployment rates and restrictive policies in many foreign countries, it is almost impossible for a spouse to obtain employment unless it is with the expatriate's companywhich is usually not possible because of lack of need or anti-nepotism policies. Instead of feeling excited about a new experience, many trailing spouses feel isolated and lonely, leading them to focus on the negatives instead of the positives of their new world. Despite the assumption that allowances will solve the unemployment issue, according to a recent survey completed by Right Associates, 42 percent of dual-income families reported a decrease in their living standard after relocating".
Hope for the Future
Patience and persistence CAN spell success
The time to begin thinking about managing your career overseas is before your departure from your home country. If your partners company has no pro-active policy of spousal assistance, you shouldnt be surprised. Those few international companies which do provide career support to the assignees partner have done so almost invariably in response to long-term spouse advocacy, and not as result of action initiated by the companies themselves. The Employee Relocation Council puts the figure for spousal employment assistance at 50% of all companies moving employees within the continental U.S., however, which means demand can have an impact.
You could do worse than to follow Harriet Rubins advice in her best-selling book for women leaders: The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women (Doubleday, 1997). "Women have avoided conflict for too long. They must wage war in their personal and professional lives to get what they want", maintains Rubin. Her advice to women everywhere? "Ask for everything. Women think their needs will be perceived, that they are obvious. Youll never know what you can get if you dont bother to ask".
The most successful and enduring of corporate family and career support programmes is Shell Internationals Spouse Employment Centre. Established five years ago, the SEC assists 600 Shell spouses/partners per year in planning their overseas career strategies by offering careers guidance, job search planning, CV and interview skills as well as work permit information. The SEC and founder Kathleen van der Wilk-Carlton are also involved in an international lobby for change, bringing together employers, employee associations, service providers, partner groups and other mobility stakeholders. This group, to be launched formally this year as a non-profit foundation with up to 50 corporate donors, will plan and monitor a concerted worldwide effort to change legislation to remove barriers to work for spouses of expats assigned abroad.
The Right to Work
At present the vast majority of countries (including such key expatriate target destinations as the USA, Brazil, France and Germany) only issue work permits on the basis of quotas and skills requirements. Only the Netherlands, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Sweden, Venezuela and the United Kingdom grant automatic right to work to accompanying spouses. And denying the right to work, says international lobbying organisation Working Partners, is denying citizens a basic human right. Dr. Gill Mackilligin, International Coordinator for Working Partners, has this to say: "Employing spouses will give benefits to the employers of expatriates, the host country as well as to the families of expatriates. Presently, the spouses or partners of international corporate, government or non-governmental employees can be excluded from the workforce for most of their "working life", often working hard for their spouses employer but without remuneration. The majority of these spouses are women. This is surely in violation of the Discrimination Convention of the International Labour Organization".
Changing Perceptions: Turning a Liability Into an Asset
Ask Nathalie Brotchi, founder and principal of Net Expat, a careers counselling and placement service for expatriate partners operating in London, Paris and Brussels (and soon in Amsterdam), what she thinks of corporate HR attitudes to helping families relocate, and shell tell you many companies dont yet see the bottom line sense. Net Expat, a unique careers agency, guarantees that they will find acceptable employment for the accompanying spouse. How sure are they? "We offer real solutions. If we are not successful (and our failure rate is below 10%) then we charge nothing. An interesting new development? In our Brussels office, 40% of our clients are male trailing spouses. And we offer double value to the companies themselves: we will not only place their own employees spouses, we offer an extensive roster of skilled international expertise by listing job-seeking partners from other multinational companies and organisations".
According to Michael S. Schell, CEO of Windham International, sooner or later the United States also will need to create a legal work immigration opportunity for the Americas. "The likely result will be that visas become more readily available to spouses of expatriatesbecause of both the greater value placed on talent and the large number of women in two-career families who are in the global work force. If barriers are lowered for working spouses, the effect will enhance the mobility of talent and enable organizations to staff the global opportunities. And so, my crystal ball indicates that having a career spouse will enhance global career potential because it puts two skilled people into the mobile work force at the same time. Organizations will have to develop programs and systems to address that as an opportunity instead of a problem."
A dual career success story
A British Home Economics grad, Brigitte agreed to move with her spouse to Holland when his employer, Shell, offered him a new position there three years ago. Brigitte did no pre-departure cultural or language training, but with the help of the Shell International Spouse Employment Centre in the Hague she re-modelled her CV for the Dutch labour market and embarked on job interviews. She also networked with a Dutch Shell spouse transferred to the UK, coincidentally also a food technologist, and they exchanged contact and job search information for the two countries.
Brigitte immediately encountered her first hurdle, that of having to explain her qualifications in terms of Dutch standard equivalency (this is a common problem when looking for work outside your home country). Problem solved, she was sent by a large manpower agency to one of the top Dutch dairy producers for an interview. The position, as Development Technologist, was essentially the same job Brigitte had held in the UK. A new obstacle was her lack of Dutch language skills. Brigitte promised to study the language, and they hired her immediately. In her 2 1/2 years as Project Leader with the firm, Brigitte has learned to speak fluent Dutch. She still speaks primarily English on the job, however, as she is working with the international products division.
When asked what she would do differently, despite the happy ending to her story, Brigitte advised that partners prepare for the move (she hadn't done anything before she left the UK, and was therefore unprepared and taken aback by the qualifications, language, and job search difficulties she encountered in the Netherlands) and find out about networking possibilities with other women/spouses in your situation and in your field. It is essential to take language lessons, even if you assume you will find work in your own language. Be sure to take advantage of services and facilities offered within your organisation or through outside support services, such as the SEC at Shell.
Shell International Spouse Employment Centre www.outpostexpat.nl/sec
Net Expat www.netexpat.com
Working Partners email@example.com, fax: +44 20 75898240
Windham International www.windhamworld.com
Employee Relocation Council www.erc.org
The Weekly Telegraph Global Network www.globalnetwork.co.uk
Expat Financial www.expatfinancial.com/links.htm