When I speak to professional women at all levels across various industries, I hear many reasons why women think they, in particular, “can’t” go abroad. I would like to dispel these myths among my female compatriots because the evidence continues to mount that working internationally is probably the single greatest opportunity for women to fast-track their careers. Going global deserves a serious look.
To that end, I’ve listed the 10 most commonly voiced myths and the reasons they just aren’t true below in the first of a two-part series.
Myth #1: Women don’t do as well as men overseas.
Fact: On the contrary, studies indicate that women have an 18 percent higher success rate than men. Women possess traits deemed critical in cross-cultural situations, such as style flexing through adaptability; skill at building teams and relationships in a non-threatening way; communication skills such as listening closely to the verbal and intuiting the non-verbal; patience and persistence also known as “grace under pressure”; and an open-minded approach to diverse and different circumstances. These traits, combined with excellent technical skills, make a woman working overseas a powerful force. Women have what it takes to succeed internationally.
Myth #2: Women aren’t accepted as equals in international business circles.
Fact: The international marketplace appreciates top-notch skills, and because the demand is outpacing the need for international players, gender doesn’t usually come into play. Some countries, of course, do not treat women as equals, but this discrimination generally applies to local nationals and not foreigners. Each country must be assessed individually, however, and doing your homework is another critical component to success. The vast majority of women who work abroad agree that if you are good at what you do, you will be accepted in international business circles as a professional first. In fact, many women claim they were given “instant credibility”: why else would a large multinational company or well-known organization send a woman if she were not the best? Indeed!
Myth #3: It’s only for young/junior professionals.
Fact: Going abroad works at any stage or age in a woman’s professional’s career – it just does so in different ways. If you are junior, you may have fewer ties and, therefore, more flexibility with timing and locale, as well as greater ability to move around and quickly. If you are middle management, you can jumpstart a stalled career or accelerate an already brilliant one given the greater likelihood of line and management experience in smaller markets. If you are senior, you may have the opportunity to manage a large-scale P&L or regional team, responsibility you may need to make the last leap to executive management – or simply round out your career with an international assignment.
Myth #4: I can’t go; I’m married.
Fact: While taking a spouse overseas with you undoubtedly complicates matters, it can be done. Of the 200 professionals surveyed, a full 40 percent were married. Since women are being transferred at an increasing rate, it seems to be working out much more often than not. Spouses are finding jobs upon arrival, reinventing their careers (as my husband did in Hong Kong), not working and, a trend we’re seeing on the rise, asking to be transferred by their company as a fellow expat. However, there is no doubt that living abroad can put stress on a marriage especially in the more exotic postings. According to the women who’ve done it, it will either strengthen the bonds or break the weak ones, so be sure to consider this factor carefully. For both men and women, an unhappy spouse is cited as the most common reason why international assignments fail.
Myth #5: I can’t go; I have children.
Fact: If having children hasn’t stopped your career so far, an international move shouldn’t prove to be any more challenging. In fact, many women who lived overseas with children found maternity leave to be more generous and child care better and more affordable, thus enabling them to focus more on their jobs. In general, the younger the children the less complicated and disruptive the move will be. In addition, raising children in a cross-cultural environment may be one of the most beneficial things you can do for them in these increasingly global times. Your adaptation, tolerance and acceptance of things different from the norm teach them the same – not to mention the potential for multiple language skills. Markets differ significantly, however, and it is wise to do a site visit and speak to other expat parents to get the low-down. Safety, education and medical care rank as the highest priorities for parents moving with children.
Written originally for w2wlink.com by Stacie Nevadomski Berdan. To learn more about going global, go to www.getaheadbygoingabroad.com.
is a consultant and expert on women and international careers, an award-winning author and a lively and engaging speaker. She focuses on the benefits of feminine leadership and the changing role of women managers within the context of an increasingly global marketplace. Stacie has appeared on NBC, ABC, CNN and FOX and has been quoted and the book featured in USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune and Time and MORE magazines. Reach her at: StacieNBerdan@aol.com.