I remember the day like yesterday. I was sitting in our swanky hotel in Singapore, having breakfast. All around me, smartly attired men and women were eating breakfast before going to work. Their suits and ties and laptop bags reminded me of the life I had just said goodbye to. As if on cue, my husband got up, grabbed his briefcase and said “Goodbye honey, I’m off!” and left for work in his new job. Sitting on that table, alone, with no plans for the day and no one to meet, I felt a complete and utter sense of despair. Who was I, if I didn’t have a job or a career or an office to go to now? The identity loss was crippling. The small flutters and kicks to my stomach reminded me that I would soon have different responsibilities. But in the months to come, not even motherhood could replace my previous identity or help me deal with the dramatic shift in status, identity, financial dependence and loss of career.
Attending the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference last month in The Hague, I was reminded of that day again and that the loss I experienced was palpable. I had the chance to attend a fascinating talk by Alix Carnot; from Expat Communication, on What it Takes to Manage Dual Careers Abroad: Expat Value 2017 Global Survey. As Alix explained, many couples try to pursue three goals simultaneously: expatriation, love and career. But the impact of living an internationally mobile life can be challenging to maintaining and managing dual careers abroad. With the use of her own experiences and direct insights from her survey (more info at the end of the article), Alix highlighted the challenges that come when one partner is asked to leave their job, to move with their partner to a foreign country on an international assignment.
The Challenges of the “Expat Trailing Bees”:
As per the results of their survey, 91% of expat spouses are women. 48 % of expat spouses consider that they put their career between brackets for their partners. 20% of expat women don’t want to work and are happy to take a break. Another 20% of women give up hope on finding a job. The statistics were humbling.
It is no wonder that there are both professional and personal challenges towards maintaining dual careers abroad. Professionally speaking, as many of us know or have experienced, there are often many hurdles to overcome. Obtaining a work permit, lack of fluency in the local language, cultural barriers, absence of a professional network, possessing job qualifications or licenses that are not recognized in the host country, and the reluctance by many companies to hire an expat spouse who might soon be on the move again. I think I can safely say that I’ve faced almost all of these situations in one country or the other.
It was interesting to note that these challenges were not just difficult for the expat spouse, but for the expat family as a whole. The more adverse impact an international move had on limiting the spouse’s ability to work, the higher the chance that the couple would turn down an expat move, creating even more challenges for the expat employer and global mobility firms.
The Winning Strategies:
Faced with an increasing amount of challenges, Alix highlighted some of the key factors for success in finding a job and managing two careers abroad. The thing that stood out for me was: “network”. 81% of women surveyed, found jobs through their network. Creating our own support network; our own tribe is a crucial element to our international lives but it seems it is also beneficial for our career and professional aspirations. Standing alone would not do the trick, it was necessary to go out there, form connections and build up our professional network.
The second winning strategy that really spoke to me, was something I have personally learned the hard way. It involves doing your research and making your own assessment of your career needs before you move. Before you and your partner say ‘yes’ to that international move, actively seek out your employer and ask for career assistance for yourself as the expat spouse. In our recent move to Dubai, I did just this and asked my husband’s employer, what career assistance or help I would be offered in Dubai. After seven moves, I am no longer afraid to ask. Because I asked, I did get offered some extra help which was valuable in setting up my own portable career, which ties in to Alix’s last winning strategy: “think nomadic and dare reinvention.” Reinvention is often the name of the game for many expat spouses and an increasingly popular way to maintain dual careers abroad. Setting up your own business, choosing a different career path or exploring others interests and hobbies can lead to successful career changes and portable careers as well.
Have you and your partner struggled to manage dual careers abroad? What tips, strategies or resources have helped you in sustaining two careers abroad? Share your stories and experiences on ‘And Then We Moved To’. For more information regarding the Families in Global Transition conference, head to their website: www.figt.org.
Additional Resources: For a more in-depth look, here is the link for the 2015 study on expatriation and dual careers: http://www.expatcommunication.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Expat-value-ANGLAIS.pdf.
If you are interested in taking their latest survey on dual careers abroad, you can participate and share your experience here: https://fr.surveymonkey.com/r/ExpatCommunication2016_FIGT