As we celebrate International Women's Day today, let's celebrate the international women who work abroad. Women who made the leap, beat the odds, and have been richly rewarded with a fast-tracked career: Higher pay raises, faster promotions and increased responsibility are the reasons to hop the on the next plane to Santiago, Stockholm or Shanghai. Plus it's whole lot of fun.
According to a recent study by ANZ recruitment agency Hydrogen Group, women who want to further their career should work overseas. ALL of the 2,637 professional women surveyed in Global Professionals on the Move 2011 said they would recommend working abroad. Wow.
The research that my co-author, Perry Yeatman, and I conducted in 2007 for our book, Get Ahead By Going Abroad, found similarly strong results: The trend is alive and well. The vast majority of the globetrotting women surveyed agreed saying that going overseas accelerated their career (85%), had a significant impact on compensation (78%) and made them better leaders and managers (95%). They also said they would advise other women to go abroad to advance their careers (83%).
When I speak to professional women at all levels across various industries, however, I still hear many reasons why women think they, in particular, "can't" go abroad. I would like to dispel these myths among my female friends 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.
And so in honor of all the women who have done the unthinkable against so many odds over the last 100 years, I've listed -- and dispelled -- 10 common myths associated with why women can't go abroad - because so many have and continue to do with significant success!
Myth #1: Women don't do as well as men overseas.
Fact: On the contrary, studies indicate that women possess traits deemed critical in cross-cultural situations, such as style flexing, skill at building teams and relationships, communication skills, patience and persistence, and an open-minded approach to diverse and different circumstances.
Myth #2: Women aren't accepted as equals in international business circles.
Fact: The international marketplace appreciates top-notch skills; gender doesn't usually come into play. Some countries, of course, do not treat women as equals; 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.
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 less ties and therefore more flexibility. If you are middle management, you can jumpstart a stalled career or accelerate an already brilliant one. 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% were married. Souses find jobs upon arrival, reinvent their careers (as my husband did in Hong Kong), do not work and, a trend we're seeing on the rise, ask to be transferred by their company as a fellow expat. However, there is no doubt that living abroad can put stress on a marriage. 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. Raising global children in a cross-cultural environment may be one of the most beneficial things you can do for them in these increasingly global times.
Myth #6: I don't speak a second language.
Fact: While language skills significantly enhance the overall overseas experience, they're not mandatory in all markets (the exception is English in the United States and UK). If you don't speak a second language, what cross-cultural skills do you have, and what value do you bring to the business? Your technical skills, management experience or in-depth knowledge of your company or industry should outweigh the need for language skills. With that said, whether you have a working knowledge of the local language or not, plan to study once you get there.
Myth #7: My market is the most important, fastest-growing place for business.
Fact: Whether you are in a sophisticated market like the U.S. or U.K., or in an explosive market like China, India or Brazil, multi-market experience is essential to understanding the global marketplace. Some professionals mistakenly think their market is "it", but then a few years pass, currencies devalue and a new sleeping giant begins to wake up. The bottom line: Multi-market experience is critical to global growth.
Myth #8: It's not necessary in my field or industry.
Fact: The breadth and depth of the global economy is astounding. Previously professionals thought only certain industries or professions needed to go global. Not true. Businesses compete at every level and across various markets. Constant technological advancements coupled with the booming growth in developing markets demand that almost every professional understands how to tap the global economy for sustained growth - possibly even survival 20 years from now.
Myth #9: Out of site, out of mind.
Fact: Perhaps the most compelling of the commonly givens reasons for staying home is that leaving the center of the action -- headquarters -- creates a fear of being forgotten. However, the opportunities abound to distinguish yourself for greater recognition and increased responsibilities. Your accomplishments will differentiate you, but you must network and find a mentor to help you leverage this success to greater gains back home.
Myth #10: Such transfers are few and far between.
Fact: While international assignments are competitive and tough to land, there are plenty out there and the numbers are on the rise -- just don't expect the expat packages of the past. Companies recognize the importance of international experience and realize the best way to get it is creating a global workforce.
Do you have any more to add?
Stacie Nevadomski Berdan's next book GO GLOBAL! A Student's Guide to Launching an International Career is due out this spring and Raising Global Children this fall.
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