Welcome to 2020!
The holidays are behind us, and it’s back to business. If you’re like me, I can rest for only so long. Then, I get antsy to return to my work and regular routines.
For many of us, the New Year symbolizes establishing fresh career goals and planning out professional changes we want to achieve in the coming months. For not enough of us, that means seeking out a lead assignment position abroad.
Why “not enough?” Because, according to a recent survey from Mercer Human Resource Consulting, women account for only 25% of international assignments. That’s unacceptable.
An HR industry juggernaut with a particular focus on female expats, Gertraud Eregger helps organizations manage and maximize globally mobile talent. As an entrepreneur and sought-after business coach, Gertraud empowers women to courageously raise their hand and actively pursue lead assignment roles.
It’s my pleasure to have Gertraud join me this week as we discuss why only a quarter of lead assignments are held by women and what we can do to get this number up. Way up.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Marketing yourself as a lead assignment candidate
- Obtaining a local mentor to act as your cultural informant
- Shattering biases: single parents, hardship locations & other baloney
- How organizations are underserving their assignments
- Why women feel they need to outperform to be seen
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
2020 has officially begun, and it’s time to stop dreaming and start doing. Let’s connect and put a plan together to make this your breakthrough year. I have one January spot left, so get in touch today and make sure it’s yours.
- Episode 121: Why Only 25% Of International Assignees Are Women
- Gertraud Eregger Website – http://www.gertrauderegger.com/
- Gertraud Eregger LinkedIn Profile
- Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
We’re delighted by our nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts!
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Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, it is 8:30 am in New York, 3:30 am in Johannesburg and 8:30 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I’m a solution oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition
According to a new survey from Mercer Human Resource Consulting, more women are being sent on International assignments than ever before. Yet the percentage remains only a 25%. Why is it that women are so far behind their male counterparts? In the Mercer survey we found out a few things, that two-thirds of companies provide no incentives or support to help partners that settle in host location, 15% of companies do not send females to hardship locations and female expatriates are far less likely than males to be accompanied by their partners on assignment.
So there is huge growth in the number of females that are sent in places like the Asia Pacific and this reflects the trends that we’re seeing globally. According to Yvonne Sonsine, the principle of Mercer Human Resources Consulting, at the same time over half of the companies expect that the number of female assignees continues to rise. Yet as Ms. Sansino says, that for expatriates going on assignment it is an important step in the career ladder, yet women are often faced with policies that are outdated and don’t reflect the changing profile.
So I am excited to continue the conversation that we started in episode 121; Why Only 25% Of International Assignees Are Women, and continue it with an expert on supporting expat females abroad, and that is from Gertraud Eregger. She is an International HR professional and coach, she’s Austrian by birth and has lived and worked as an expat in Africa and currently in Jamaica. Gertraud is also an expert in International recruitment, talent acquisition and executive search and is a transition coach.
She got inspired by so many women that she met along the way and worked with in recent years and saw a need to support these high-achieving expat women on their mission and help them discover how they can maximize their impact, have more time and more energy.
So I am so excited to welcome you to Expat Happy Hour today.
Gertraud: Hi Sundae, I am so happy to be here with you.
Sundae: Okay, so you are involved with so many things, you’ve got a community initiative where you share experiencing at life. You’re supporting people with leadership and I know that you’re working in multiple organizations and just launched your business. So tell us how did you get here?
Gertraud: Yeah, I’m very happy to share my story and journey. How did I get there? It all it all started around five years ago when we took a very bold decision, my husband and myself, to go abroad. And five years ago I was very comfortable in HR Consulting in Austria, and I was at the place where I was very frightened and scared to go abroad actually and I said a couple of things like, “I will just stay a year, I don’t want to have kids abroad, I want to work abroad but it’s so hard.” So there was a lot of bias from my side around it.
And then fast forward, I was living down in Utopia where we were sent to, I got a chance to step into a leadership role, I was leading the biggest consultancy in in East Africa and I experienced myself the complexity of layers when leading, actually as an only expat in a very vulnerable country and context.
So experienced it all, but I really fell in love with expat life, with that complexity, with the power of creation when you are working with a local team. And yeah, actually right now I’m sitting in Jamaica.
So the story is that we both truly saw and see the time abroad as an opportunity for the career of my husband, but also now for my career. And In Jamaica right now I found this mission and I’m very passionate about rewriting the expat stories.
So I find the world of expatriation is still a very traditional bubble actually, when we see mostly men are sent abroad, the wife or the partner is following, careers are broken and we only see a small number of women leading the assignment. And whenever I see women, and also back in Africa worked with a lot of women, they really inspired me, I had kind of like a tribe around me and they really challenged me and they really supported me so much. So they were a central point for my journey to rewrite my journey. I came from “Wow, this is so challenging.” To “Wow, I really love it.” And this is the path where I saw, let’s start rewriting the expat journey and rewriting careers of women by supporting women sent abroad. Because I really see there’s another layer of complexity for them working abroad.
Sundae: I love what you’re saying about looking at these with my stories and being inspired by it. And I remember I was actually, when was it I was at a party as someone’s house, just sitting down and having regular conversation. We talked about a woman that I know who’s a single parent and she travels a lot for her work and she makes it work and she’s got an adorable child and everything is totally fine. And I remember in that conversation I said, “To be really honest, I don’t know if I would have ever even come up with the idea to be a single parent and take a leadership position abroad.” Do you know what I mean? Like if you are in a place where you are single parent and you’re in your home country, to come to the idea “Yeah, I can totally do that.” I don’t even know if I would have had I not known this woman. And it goes around this idea of we can’t become it if we don’t see it, it doesn’t even dawn on us to do that.
And that’s why I think it’s so important for more females who have expatriate assignments, have visibility so that other women are like, “Oh wait a minute, I can do that too.” Or organizations start to create normality around the fact that women take on assignment successfully. So I think that’s a great a great point around raising visibility and sharing inspiration about people’s stories.
Gertraud: Yeah, absolutely, what I do really see is there is a lot of bias from all sides on getting women into C-level roles, like this is a like a big global topic right now, how do we get more women in C-level roles in boards on the top. But it all starts earlier on in the careers and let’s say a lot of careers they’re really infused by an assignment abroad, this is a career booster in a lot of cases. In a lot of cases it’s even a demand to be abroad for a subsidiary. But the minute women are not asked, or also themselves, they’re not thinking of this option, there is a break in that overall journey to get to a certain level in the career and to impact at the highest level.
So I find this kind of like, seeing it as a journey for the woman as well. I see that very fascinating, like how can we step by step break the bias and rewrite the stories. And as you said, it’s really a lot of times like seeing a woman doing it, it’s like “Hey, wait a minute, I can do it myself.”
Sundae: Right. “If she can do it so can I.”
Gertraud: That’s right, so a lot of questions like when is the right time to do that? But when you see someone doing that, even someone being a single parent and having two or three kids, you are like “Hey wait a minute, let’s get here as well. Let’s give it a try.”
Sundae: Totally, and I have female clients who are assignment and I’ve watched them have babies abroad and do that successfully. And I’ve watched, C-suite leaders manage the leadership challenges and support their family while they’re abroad. It’s totally possible and is it challenging, sure, but it doesn’t matter what gender you are, this is challenging to take this high level of complexity and master it, but it has nothing to do with gender, it’s just about men mastering complexity.
And I don’t know, I’m curious what you think when we look at organizations? I’m going to be really direct here when I ask you this. What do you think organizations are doing wrong when it comes to acquiring and recruiting and supporting women who are on expat assignments or could be tagged and go forward to expat assignments?
Gertraud: Yes, I love the question. I feel, and now also the recruiter speaks out of me, the HR hat, I feel it starts very early on, it starts in the recruitment process, it starts in the succession planning considerations, it starts in those discussions where we think of potential leaders in the organization who could go to a certain country. And then the organization already they might outrule woman because this hardship post or own this is might not be the right time in the career. There might be a lot of bias and as I also said it might be also from the woman’s side they would not have spoken up to say, “Hey, I am available and I would love to go abroad.”
So I feel it starts early on, and then in the recruitment process for many organizations it’s kind of like a black box, how do you get out there, it’s like you have a mentor or you have a sponsor in the organization and you get promoted you get really pushed and if you don’t have that sometimes it’s hard to get into those recruitment cycles. So I feel this recruitment process it’s a very crucial time actually, because right now when I see who is thriving in the assignment, who is really challenged by a certain market. Like here in Jamaica, you can already see some facts where we think “Oh, well, wait a minute, this person is new in a leadership role, has never been in a complex environment like Jamaica and maybe also don’t have any support in how to lead abroad, how to lead in this environment, how to manage all the emotions of the whole family.” So they are kind of like dropped in the country without considering all the context.
So I feel this selection process and really seeing this mindset, the skills, the history before the journey, that most importantly what support do we give this person as well to make it an absolute priority to have a successful assignment and get them the results the organization wants and of course the individual wants as well, I feel that’s really crucial time. And I do see that organizations do rush into decisions, it’s like, “Wow we need someone in one month, let’s get it done, let’s get a change done.” And then later on they are fine tuning, but I feel like more preparation, more crucial decisions at the beginning, that’s very important.
Sundae: And this gets to my pet peeve, why organizations will be be mindful in their recruitment selection, drop people off and then offer zero support for their adaptation. It just drives me crazy, because I’ve worked with so many people, how many behind the curtain views do I have of leaders dropped abroad somewhere and not given any support once they’re there. There’s so much pre-departure training you can get but when you really need help is when you’re facing that problem with your Intercultural team, or you’re feeling fatigued from being abroad or something tragic happens at home and you can’t be there for it and you’re wondering whether this was a good idea. These are the times when people need to be supported. And it doesn’t mean that they have a deficit, it means that they’ve reached a level of complexity where they haven’t yet had an opportunity to have their strategies upleveled to them. It just it makes me crazy why organizations don’t do more to support people once they’re there. So that was just my personal rant.
Gertraud: Yeah, this speaks right out of my out of my heart because I really see the energy piece, so to get your energy levels constantly up in another country, in another environment, this is key. And then also to really to be able to connect to your local team, it means that you have a sparring partner or a support system or maybe like a mastermind group around you who you can talk about complex problems or let’s call it high quality problems that experts have. When you talk to your family at home, they are like, “Yeah, but you are in Jamaica, why do you bother with all that?”
We could call it high quality problems but they are real problems might stop us to to show up every day with your team in that genuine and humble way, that they buy into your vision and they walk with you to really make the changes. And that’s the crucial piece, without that connection to your local team you will not go anywhere as an expat, it will be very hard to get your results and to make the impact you want without really being there and being present. But, of course, if in your mind you face challenges it is hard to be present and lead from this very focussed, very connected space.
Sundae: And I think it’s short-sighted of organizations to think that you can take someone talented in a domestic context, put them international context and expect all of those skills to be enough. Because those were skills that were built a domestic context with that level of complexity, not an international context with a different level of complexity, and that’s where I think organizations are going wrong.
You tell me that where they’re going wrong is also at the beginning, it starts from recruiting and even getting people to the table to even start in the pipeline. Who’s getting it, right? What are they doing?
Gertraud: The organization who really gets it right I feel they start from a from a white paper, the drawing board, so they consider the talent that is in organization, woman and they get everyone in the process. And they created also those trust systems where women speak up and say, “Hey, I want to have this chance as well.” Then, later on in the process they realized the complexity sending people abroad, sending leaders abroad. As you say it’s not only plug and play, it’s plug and play but without your support system, without your family, so very much complex. So they offer support systems, they offer coaching for the partners, for the family, but also for the expat. Really, let’s say sustainable programs where we say, “Hey this leader is an organization for 10 years, so why do we stop now leadership support? Why do we stop right now very specific training to maximize the potential?”
So I feel those organizations they really got the complexity, they support the partner and also see happy expat, but happy partner and vice versa. But not only investing one, because I also saw organizations that invest a lot in the partner and they could build their own businesses, they could do education, but yet there was no further support for the expat. And I do feel the expat is the lead in their assignment and they face, especially when it’s a woman and also man, they face a lot of pressure to make this all happen, because this is why we are here. So if all that support instead of only support in visa and sending boxes and sending the container, but also supporting that emotional roller coaster journey.
And as you said, I really like that you said we need the support when reality hits. We can do a lot of preparation before, we can do perfect lists, we can do a culture training, we can talk about all that, but when reality hits this is another story. And this is where we need immediate support because then it’s like the next day and then you show up with your team, then you create this vision, then you walk with them. And I see like here in Jamaica for example, people are very proud and when you do not invest in those relationships, when you don’t get your team along with you and they buy into your vision, it will be a very challenging market. And just seeing organizations sending leaders abroad, let’s say it’s a new leadership role for them, then the first expat assignment or only the second one in a changing market. And then giving no support on the rest of the journey and then yet expecting extraordinary results. For me it’s like, wow, there’s a missing puzzle piece kind of.
Sundae: And when I look at, you know, I work with a lot with top talent and I mean this is the danger, because these people are high performers and they were high performers in their local context and then they get sent internationally and they are expected to perform even better when they’re abroad, yet they are giving fewer resources, less support than in a domestic context.
The exponential gap is getting bigger. And when you talk about pre-departure training and that support, the image that came to mind is like, you know in some cultural groups you meet with the priest or pastor or some religious figure before you get married for marriage counseling. And it’s like saying that a 20-minute conversation with the religious leader is enough to have a successful marriage for the next 20 to 50 years. It’s the work that you do when you’re in the thick of it that makes the difference, not the the optimistic ideas you had before you set foot?
There’s something that I just haven’t seen yet where organizations are connecting the dots between early repatriation, the expense it takes when people leave an assignment early because of family dissatisfaction or burnout. Why aren’t more organizations connecting the dots to invest? And the Investments are not that expensive when you think about six months with a coach or an online tool or something, it doesn’t have to be an astronomical investment in comparison to what the risks are.
Gertraud: Exactly, and also here like in terms of high investment costs, sometimes it’s really very easy tweaks to say, “Hey, I’ll give my expert a local mentor.” I immediately connect him with the local team and I have a local team member giving them the lead to supporting them when they arrive. So to immediately connect them so that we do everything as an organization as well to burst those expat bubbles. Because the minute we are isolated, the minute also in the organization only experts are taking the decisions, this is where we have that disconnect. And then some years down the line or sometime down the line it’s like, “Oh wow, why can’t we make these changes happen?”
So I feel it’s kind of like always that reality hit especially for the expat. It’s also a time where we are always high performers, we were always used to outperform especially woman. Everyone I worked with they are like, “You know as a woman I feel I even want to outperform because I want to be seen, this is like, a satisfying result. It is not enough, I want to outperform.” But abroad this is another layer then of complexity, so to work consistently on that.
Also kind of like really seeing where we are and how can we outperform? It really needs that connection piece before where we where we need to work on the fear that is around, the frustration and stress to get to the point of outperformance.
So a lot of times this is how we are wired, we are already in the future and we want to create these massive results and then reality hits and it is like, “Wow, okay this is harder than expected.” Or like other thoughts are coming into our minds like what I call the imposter syndrome, where we think, “Oh wow this is like a new role for me, hopefully no one finds out that I am doing this for the first time in another country.” As an example.
And a lot of times we don’t see the full potential in us because we were chosen for a reason and now we are here and must make this happen.
Sundae: I want to get back to this idea of connection and I think that’s where you and I see things very similarly. Things like when we are working across cultures the fastest way to expedite our success is to make connection through relationships and with the local culture. I love that idea about a mentor, a local mentor, they would serve as your cultural informant as well and someone to help you understand the local market and the ins and outs. You need someone on your side to help you save face or to understand the way things are done around here, in air quotes, I love that idea. So here’s the thing, there’s some things that organizations are already doing well, there are organizations out there who are missing the mark regardless of that. What can individuals do regardless of the kind of support they offer in their organization to make the most of their career potential so that they can go abroad or once they’re already there?
Gertraud: I love the question. My answer is to dream big and speak it out, speak about your dreams. So as a woman when you form your network, you form your system in your organization, and it’s important that your sponsors and your network know about your dreams and they know about your aspirations. So unless we speak up and we share our visions and we share where we see ourselves going, no one will assume especially when there is a lot of bias. Especially whatever reasons they are, but they would not maybe consider you for a hardship country or they would not consider you because you have three kids or you’re a single mom. They would consider, “Oh wow, this would be too challenging.”
So speaking up and constantly surrounding yourself with people that are challenging you. I love that idea to constantly create another comfort zone and exit your comfort zone level and exit a zone where we say high achievers. Already you do extraordinary things and a lot of people might say, “Wow, how can she do all that? This is crazy, wow how is she doing all that?” But deep inside you are feeling “Yeah, it’s really cool what I’m doing.” But secretly you think “Okay, it’s still only 70% of my full potential.”
So I really invite everyone to kind of like check in and say “Hey, how can I maximize my impact and how can I thrive?” And take it further and dream big, but then also to really be very aware of your resources and your energies. It’s because, especially with women, what I’ve seen is we are very endurant. I call them endurance queens, we can run for a very long time at a very high pace, also under very much stress and we can juggle it all. Kind of like we can buy the Christmas gifts we can drop the kids at school and then we also master our leadership role.
We do all that but it is important to take the time very carefully for yourselves, especially abroad. To find a routine, to take care of yourself, then you can take care of your company, then you can take care of your family. But this is a topic that is very dear to my heart, to really work on your energy levels and really set your system up for success.
Sundae: That’s what I love about the work that you do in terms of emphasising energy, because what I’ve noticed with the women that I work with, if they are working and have a family they feel guilty about the time they already spent away from their kids. So they tend to put their own needs on the back burner so that they can be physically present with their children in terms of quantity of time. And that eventually leads to burnout because they’re giving everything at work, they’re giving everything to their family and they’re not doing anything to replenish their energy and that’s that leads to burnout.
We know that endurance leads to exhaustion and resilience leads to rejuvenation. And I think that’s a really important factor that you mentioned that women need to do better about managing their energy so they can give, continue to give in a sustainable way.
So there’s something that’s popping up for me, and we’ve talked about women and expat leadership. And I just want to put out a caveat there, what we’ve talked about isn’t exclusive to women. Some of this even applies to other minority groups. The studies that we’ve looked at around how women are socialized lead to some of these behaviors. It doesn’t mean that all women are like this and men are not like this or it doesn’t apply only to women. I think that’s just an important caveat to put out there.
What we’re looking at generally is tendencies that we’ve seen in the social scientific research and what we’ve seen in both of our practices with expats, because I do know that people can get on the defense too because there are a ton of men out there that are facing similar challenges and feeling stretched thin as well, but that doesn’t mean that they’re excluded from these same strategies.
Gertraud: Yeah, absolutely, I can only speak on that and what I just saw is the factor of loneliness, it’s another layer for a woman because most of the time they might be the only one in the organization, so that factor of loneliness that might hit it harder. And maybe for my list for what I just wanted to add is, for individuals as a hint. If you don’t have a master group or you can’t find any organization or scenario where you can share the challenges you go through in your country, create one.
Because just lately I heard from an expat woman, she was a single first leadership role abroad, she found it very challenging, but she really missed a like-minded group around her. And I feel that that that could also be a game changer, if you create a mastermind group around you, this is what I what I was doing here in Jamaica, I found out here a kind of like mastermind group of like-minded, where we share challenges and opportunities to work and lead and live in the country. But just hearing the challenges and talking about the challenges and how you solve them, this is also important, because a lot of times we might stay shallow and say, “Yeah, yeah it is all good.” or we are on the extreme and “Wow this is so hard.”
Sundae: Super important.
So let me just recap some of the big points here;
- Allow yourself to dream big,
- Speak up with your wishes, so don’t assume that you will get picked on if someone sees you’re are good enough, but actually communicate that proactively,
- Break through some of the biases saying “Yes, I am a single parent but that doesn’t mean I want to don’t want to go abroad.” ,
- The other idea that you brought if you are ambitious and know that you’ve got more potential that hasn’t been tapped in to, be active in exiting your comfort zone and surround yourself with a community of people who are doing the same so you can support each other,
- And then be very careful at monitoring your energy so you can consistently give to your organization, to your family and to yourself.
Wonderful, so we’ve talked about a lot.
Now if people want to get in contact with you and find out more. Where can they reach you?
Gertraud: They can reach me through my website http://www.gertrauderegger.com/ and I’m sure you’ll share it as well.
They can also reach me via LinkedIn and just drop me a message. I am always very excited to connect to hear those stories.
I am also featuring an interview series, it is called “Expat women on the move.” where I am featuring success stories of women abroad that I am sure will inspire other women and what the share about their secrets to live abroad and how they overcome their fear.
Sundae: That’s wonderful, thank you so much for what you’re doing to raise the profile of women that are working abroad so that other women can see that it’s possible and can find their people and exchange ideas. I really appreciate what you’re doing for expat women, so thank you for that.
Gertraud: Thank you so much, Sundae.
Sundae: Alright everyone, you’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Schneider-Bean, thank you for listening.
I will leave you with the words from Gloria Vanderbilt, “I’ve always believed that one woman’s success can only help another woman succeed.”
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