September 10, 2011

Challenges Faced by Female Expats

Entitled Handle International Assignments with Ease, The Hindu recently ran a very engaging and thought provoking article with tips for female expats. Within I share some of my rebuttal and thoughts on the article.

1. Less women travel alone internationally than men.
The article states "According to a report published by Mercer Consulting, 85% of women travel alone on international assignments as compared to 48% of men." 

Jennifer's thoughts: I am not quite sure I understand this statistic. Is this assuming that both men and women represented in these statistics are married? If so, then it can mean a few things. First, it could mean that married women are more apt to go alone because the husband is already working and can't get an assignment abroad or holiday time to go abroad with his wife or that he has to stay home for schooling for the kids. Secondly, it begs the question as to why much less married men would be traveling alone. To this, I'd say that most likely the women are already stay-at-home spouses or moms, maybe they quit their job for this 'better opportunity to go abroad' or any other number of reasons. However, all in all I am notLink sure I understand this quoted statistic enough to really comment further.

2. Social Isolation
The article says "A sense of isolation is also more pronounced in women who may not indulge in after work socializing activities to the extent that men do. These factors coupled with limited mobility in some places that is enforced on women owing to safety concerns, only adds to their sense of a social vacuum and isolation faced by many of them in a new country." 

Jennifer's thoughts: The tone here makes it sound like women face more problems socializing abroad than men because they don't feel comfortable in a new culture (and men do). This is my thought, and if this thought is there- I'd disagree that women face this more than men. It supposes women are more weak, shy, and not forthcoming. If that were the case, how would they get chosen to go abroad? And, that also says men do not have problems socializing in a new culture, only women do. I would again disagree with that. It'd depend on the person. Regarding concerns about safety- I think this is not cut and dry. A female expat's view toward safety really depends on where she comes from- that country's view toward women's safety and the country to which she is going. A woman going from a country or culture not encouraging women to step out after dark or alone and going to a country where that is not the norm may face isolation and a social vacuum because her mindset, social conditioning and comfort level with socializing after dark without a chaperone or friends is preventing her from trying something new- even though the new country may be completely safe. I also again would say this varies based on a lot of factors for both men and women - their cultural upbringing, to where they are going, their mindset, their ability to be independent, outgoing attitude, comfort in the language, marital status, area (urban, suburban, rural) and so many more factors. It's hard to generalize.

3. Prejudice or resistance
The article says: "While cross-cultural training programs can help women develop skills in communicating with people from a different culture and ethos, they also need to be specially equipped to manage themselves and others business settings where they may encounter subtle prejudice or resistance." 

Jennifer's thoughts: Why is it only women who are going to face prejudice or resistance? This is a backwards way of thinking. Although I don't doubt women (as well as men) may face prejudice or resistance as expats abroad, I also believe that this prejudice or resistance starts at the country of origin - as this is where the ideas of acceptance of expat life as a male or female worker begin.

4. Role of Cross- Cultural Training
Article says: "Cross cultural training is important for both men and women taking up international assignments, but women benefit a lot more from cross cultural training, because they are far more perceptive to vibes and tend to read a lot more between the lines when compared to men." 

Jennifer's thoughts: Though I'd agree there are communication differences between men and women, cross-cultural training is required and equally beneficial for men and women. Also, since there are more male expats than female expats- creating more demand for cross-cultural training for females while ignoring males is not the way to go.

Related Posts:
Handle International Assignments with Ease
Reasons to get help from a cross-cultural coach
When do I need a cross-cultural coach?
Why should I get cross-cultural coaching?



Jennifer Kumar is a cross-cultural coach based in Kochi, India providing one-to-one and group cross-cultural training solutions to Indian preparing to work, study and live in USA. 


Image credit: Microsoft clip art

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