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Careers: Working Abroad is Less Foreign to Women

Will working abroad fast-track your career? The answer has often been yes for men, but a question mark for women who used to be passed over for foreign assignments. In the book Get Ahead by Going Abroad authors C. Perry Yeatman and Stacie Berdan contend that women are better suited for foreign assignments than men – and they have the results to prove it.

Will working abroad fast-track your career? The answer has often been yes for men, but a question mark for women who used to be passed over for foreign assignments.

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In the book Get Ahead by Going Abroad authors C. Perry Yeatman and Stacie Berdan contend that women are better suited for foreign assignments than men – and they have the results to prove it.

“It comes down to a couple of personality traits as well as skills,” says Berdan. “Women have great communication skills, team building, and adaptability – the things we have noticed successful women overseas have.” According to their research, “The success rate is 15-to-20 percent higher for women as opposed to men. That’s pretty astounding.”

A former media executive, Berdan says that her career blossomed as a result of a successful overseas assignment that began in her late 20s. Berdan, who consults multinationals on how to prepare employees for overseas assignments, moved to Hong Kong the day after she was married. Her “trailing spouse” to use the vernacular of globe-trotting executives, is a writer who could work from anywhere. Often it’s the trailing spouse – particularly those that don’t work – who torpedoes an otherwise invaluable career and life experience.

Berdan and Yeatman say that their personal experiences, combined with several hundred interviews in preparation for the book, revealed to them that women possess soft skills that can make a foreign assignment successful. It’s also true that these two network with a lot of successful people. Berdan’s co-author, C. Perry Yeatman is a SVP of Kraft Foods, who had the experience of working in Singapore, Moscow, and London.

In researching the book, “83% of the people said [their foreign assignment] was successful,” says Berdan. “Everyone said it was hard and had their share of failures along the way. Many were very personal stories a lot to do with gender stereotyping and female roles around the world. “

Berdan’s former employer, WPP is an example of a company that understands how to manage globally-distributed employees. “They have 70,000 employees all over the place and they treat them like global employees, not expats,” she explains. She says that unfortunately many companies have HR departments that lack empathy for workers on foreign assignments. “If you have never been in the situation,” of working overseas, she says, “It’s hard to understand how crazy” life abroad can be.

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How do you know if you’re ready to embark on a global career or a foreign assignment? The authors suggest that you ask yourself these questions first – if you can answer yes or even “somewhat” to most of them, you may have right aptitude to succeed.

Do You Have the Right Stuff?
(From Get Ahead By Going Abroad – Harper Collins 2007)

  • Do you have a real sense of adventure? Do you enjoy the unknown, the different, and the unexpected?
  • Do you operate well outside your comfort zone, even if you are feeling alone and isolated from all things normal for you?
  • Do you thrive on diversity – language, ethnicity, religion, currency, culture, social norms, foods, politics – lots of it and all at the same time?
  • Do you consider yourself extremely flexible?
  • Can you build relationships – even if you have to communicate in your or someone else’s second language?
  • Do you know how to really listen? Can you read between the lines and understand what is being said even if the faces you’re reading look like blank pages – and vice versa, i.e., when the facial expressions are clear but the words are confusing?
  • Can you handle failure and learn from it? Can you keep it in perspective? Do you have a sense of humor about it?

Rusty Weston, My Global Career • San Francisco, Ca • http://www.myglobalcareer.com/ •

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