As the world celebrates Women everywhere, I’d like to celebrate the Women who are prepared to move anywhere.
Today is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is ‘Be Bold for Change’ and, in my opinion, defines Globally Mobile Women across the world. Boldness and Change – two words that are synonymous with living abroad. Globally Mobile Women are bold stepping into change. They are bold working through change. They are bold because of change. They are bold for change. As the world celebrates Women everywhere, I’d like to celebrate the Women who are prepared to move anywhere.
Who are these Globally Mobile Women? They are Grandmothers, Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, Wives, Partners and Friends. They are those whose careers take their family abroad and the many others who have put their careers on hold to accompany their partner across the globe. They are those who packed their bags to work or study abroad solo and those who have returned ‘home’. I am proud to be amongst this Tribe of Women.
Many women accept overseas assignments and build their career abroad. According to the 2015 BGRS Global Mobility Trends Survey, however, these women are still in the minority, representing just 19% of the entire international assignee workforce. Double the number of 20 years ago, they are bold and bringing change to what has long been a male-dominated community. Take Cath for example – a 40 something woman, happily married with two teenage children, her job is the reason her family has embarked on the adventure of a lifetime and has taken the risk to live abroad. She took the bold step from her comfortable corner of the globe to be a change agent in a multi-national company based in Asia. Leading change, Cath is embracing the opportunity to develop her cultural competency as she works alongside colleagues representing many nationalities and cultures whilst subtly pushing the boundary towards a more inclusive global workforce.
For all those women whose careers have taken their families abroad, many more have put their careers on hold to accompany their partners to far-flung corners of the world. Possible reasons why this is so include (but are not limited to) visa restrictions or the need for family stability amidst a partner’s grueling travel and work schedules. Known by a variety of often-unsavoury labels, including Expat Women, Trailing Spouses (the most unsavoury of them all) and Accompanying Partners, these women are not wallflowers. “We are the ones negotiating to have the Wifi connected – in a language completely foreign to us, driving to soccer practice – in a car on the wrong side of the road, and catching up on our partner’s day via FaceTime – only after calculating time zone differences to ensure it’s not 2am there,” says Jane, a former PR Manager who has lived abroad for more than 5 years. In most cases, these women boldly take charge of creating a new ‘home’ for their family, help their children understand and navigate the challenges and triumphs of change that is an everyday part of globally mobile life and role model how to step out of their comfort zones to make new friends and say goodbye to old ones. They are raising the next generation of Global Citizens whom our world desperately needs. They are also women who have boldly stepped into change and allowed it to change them. For example, the Veterinarian who became a Life Coach supporting Expatriate Spouses to explore their gifts and reconnect with their passion for life, the Psychologist now known globally as an expert in helping people from different cultures to work effectively together and the Teacher who, after 20 years, returned to study and completed her Masters of Education with Distinction. They certainly do not sound like they are ‘trailing’ their partners do they?
It is bold to move abroad with your family. It is an entirely other level of boldness to move abroad on your own. With no support structure to lean on, age does not define these women. Character does. Gabrielle is a Learning Support Educator. Originally from New Zealand, she has either worked or studied on every continent. Change has emboldened her. Now she goes where she is needed, specialising in supporting students who are trying to navigate a world with their behavioural and emotional difficulties. Arriving in her latest post, Slovakia, Gabrielle knew no one and did not speak Slovak. Boldly stepping into change, she learned a new language, made new lifelong friendships and developed her cultural intelligence to positively impact her students, their families and the world in which they live and learn.
The impact of change is perhaps, most profoundly felt upon repatriation and the ensuing re-entry process. Repatriating women quickly discover they have changed, those they left behind have changed and ‘home’ has changed. They are the women who have returned home to access the best possible education for their children, to take care of their ageing parents, to escape an unsafe environment or because the Company said so. Some have returned solo, some with their entire family but others have made the difficult decision to return whilst their partner remains abroad. The Company needed Mandy’s husband in a country where her safety could not be guaranteed and the education options for her senior school children, limited. Unable to stay in their host country due to visa restrictions and no potential job opportunities for her husband locally, she returned ‘home’ so her children could finish their education. Conducting a long distance relationship, being a single parent and working through re-entry – that takes boldness.
All these women are my Tribe. Globally Mobile Women – bold as you step into change, bold as you work through change, bold because of change and bold for change – arise. Today (and every day) I salute you. You are flexible, resilient and risk takers. You are internationally minded, culturally responsive and capable of being a bridge between and among worlds. You are curious, adventurous and open-minded. You embrace both the challenges and the opportunities that living abroad brings – allow them to shape who you are and inform who you will become. Stand tall Globally Mobile Women wherever you are. Our world needs Women like you!
Photo Credit: University of West Florida