Expat Women: Confessions
Expat Women: Confessions
Career and Money
Loss of Career
Q. I am forty-one years old and I am facing having to give up my architectural career because my husband has received a really good job offer in Africa. My husband's remuneration package is generous, so financially, I would not need to work in Africa. However, I cannot imagine turning into a housewife while my career is going so well. Our children are already in high school and do not need me during the day, so what would I do with all that time on my hands? I am also worried about losing touch with the job market and becoming less marketable if I do not work while we live abroad. Finding work in Africa seems daunting to me. What can I do?
A. We can very much understand your concerns. You bring up an issue that is a priority for many women. The industry-respected Brookfield Global Relocation Services' Global Relocation Trends 2010 Survey Report cites "spouse/partner's career" as the secondhighest reason for an international assignment to be refused. The number one reason was "family concerns," which arguably often masks spouse career concerns as well. While employee-sponsored female expats are still the minority, dual-career couples are not.
In today's employment market, organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to entice employees to an overseas assignment due to their partners' career ambitions. Many dual-career couples are not willing to step off the career ladder for an overseas assignment where one partner may not be able to continue furthering their career. It is typically the woman who finds herself giving up her job and either looking for new work abroad (which can indeed be a daunting task) or reinventing her work to find career satisfaction.
Do your research. For accompanying partners who want to be employed abroad, finding a job may be challenging, but it is not always impossible. First, you need to be prepared. Find out as much as you can about the local situation regarding work permits, possible licensing and language concerns. Find a reputable local employment lawyer to give you sound advice. Embassies might also be able to point you in the right direction.
Find out about the international communities, business networks, professional associations and/or volunteer work options in your field of expertise. As an architect, you may be able to offer your skills to help design a charity-funded project such as a school or school extension. Even if the task is more junior than your current ability, volunteering can be a positive experience, and stories abound of trailing spouses who have gained meaningful employment or started a successful business abroad from what began as a volunteer experience.
Options and resources. Have you considered self-employment or working virtually for companies located elsewhere? A number of women write and coach about these issues, so we encourage you to seek them out. Search the Web and find resources and ideas specific to dual-career issues and portable careers abroad. Consulting an expat life coach might also help you sort through work issues.
Another idea that might appeal is to undertake further study. Online studies are widely available, and local universities sometimes have a surprising range of programs on offer in English. Most major locations have international universities or at least universities with international affiliations.
Some companies offer in-house job advisors (or access to specialized job-search websites) for expatriate partners seeking work abroad or financial support in furthering their education. Some companies even have dual-career service centers that specialize in assisting partners pursuing careers abroad (which may include access to expat career coaches and/or work permit ad