First major survey examining careers of expatriate spouses
How do couples manage two careers when expatriated?
Between stereotypes, illusion and courage – An Expat Communication exclusive study
The survey was conducted in 2 waves, in January and in May 2015. It generated 3 668 responses through a questionnaire distributed and made available via femmexpat.com and lepetitjournal.com sites, via networks of the international chamber of Commerce, Foreign Affairs and local francophone networks.
The survey was financed by: Adeo, EDF, Saint Gobain, and the Caisse des Français de l’Etranger.
Survey group: 59% couples with corporate expatriate contracts (others: local 15%, local contract 19%, independent 7%)
Expatriation is the norm for a growing number of French people. The number of French living abroad in 2012 reached 2 million. This number is expected to double by 2022 with more than 25% of young graduates seeing their future outside of France. As many as 70% of French leave as a couple, their partners often with similar qualifications. Combining two careers within a couple seems obvious: in 2015, for a French couple, it’s normal that both work…
However, the reality of expatriation does not correspond with this illusion of equality. For 62% of expatriate spouses, mostly women, expatriation is negative or very negative for a career. Only half of spouses who are looking for a position find one.
A common cause of frustration and tension in expatriate couples this issue needs to be addressed urgently. It’s with this focus that the Expat Value survey was launched: it aims to understand the impact of expatriation on a couple and analyse the professional paths of spouses, to generate propositions and recommendations for expats and spouses, as well as corporations and public authorities. Olivier Wurtz, researcher with ESSEC and expatriation specialist, points out that Expat Value is the first survey of this magnitude undertaken on the subject.
The survey is presented by Alix Carnot. Having spent 8 years relocating with her family, Alix has returned to France as Director of International Careers with Expat Communication. She is currently completing a book on couples and expatriation which will be published by Eyrolles in January.
What has been learnt from the survey?
Initially, 67% of couples feel reasonably positive and 80% of accompanying spouses envisage working during their expatriation. The family make up radically changes priorities: without children, spouses focus without hesitation on their professional plans however for others the family comes before the desire to work, although that desire is not inexistent.
Ultimately, the reality is very different from expectations: only 50% of spouses who wish to work when expatriated are able to do so. That is a success rate of just 1 in 2.
It has been established that the large majority of spouses are women (91%). In 2015 it’s still men who are offered the opportunity for a career abroad, women and children follow. The word “spouse” refers to females in 9 out of 10 cases.
Among the sample group examined by Expat Communication, the spouse of the expatriate typically has a desirable profile: had she remained in France, she would probably find herself destined for a successful career (speaking at least 3 languages (68%), she is highly qualified with a baccalaureate and at least 4 years of university level education (72,4%).
For these partners, expatriation can mean a broken career dream.
The working girls, whom everyone thought destined for professional success in France, commit themselves, by following their husbands, to an atypical career path, disjointed, difficult to value in the workplace.
For the 14% of women offered expatriation by the corporation they work for, the price to pay is even higher: their spouses fearing they may not find employment decide not to follow, leaving 1/3 of women to make the move to a new destination on their own.
For accompanying spouses who want to work during the expatriation period, the reality is not easy. They will have difficulty in finding their place in the local professional market, and will all experience a halt in their career, even if they are initially determined to ensure CV continuity, not to lose skills (for 46% of respondents), or wish to pursue their own project (33%) offering them personal fulfilment.
Three obstacles: the absence of a guiding local professional network, the language barrier, and insufficient knowledge of the local professional market. In the long term if they are able to position themselves professionally their careers can bounce back. But if the moves imposed by the career of their spouse continue and they need to re-enact the same adaptation challenge each time, in each country where they arrive and live for a while … a disjointed, unstable and difficult to sell professional path emerges.
Ultimately however, the judgement they take away is positive, for 86% work is not all there is to life, and expatriation is a passionate life experience which often brings a family together. It’s also recognized as a precious occasion for change and building family cohesion.
Four pieces of advice for expatriate partners…
1. - If you wish to work abroad, above everything have confidence in your network, the one you already have and the one you’re going to make when you arrive at your destination. It is the guide to finding employment, everywhere in the world. Virtual networks have an important role but the most efficient means, everywhere, remains those you meet in person.
« Some advice in this challenging search for employment? Put to one side your usual points of reference, adapt to your new environment, ask yourself questions, develop new search techniques Consider this experience as an opportunity to put your professional life on a new footing…Don’t be discouraged, don’t hide away, use your network. As many as 81% of spouses who have found work credit their network, friends, and social activities. Drinks with friends is often a more beneficial way to spend an afternoon than answering job advertisements », says Alix Carnot, Director of International Careers at Expat Communication.
2. - Be aware before you depart the hit parade of countries where spouses find jobs most easily includes Canada, Australia and Russia; the countries where they have the most difficulty are Thailand, India, Brazil and Italy…Good to know before you go and have your information up to date.
3 – For the spouse, finding the level of employment and responsibility that one left in France is a challenge. To find a job at whatever cost, one will inevitably have to accept lower remuneration and reduced responsibility. Your efforts will however be rewarded if the length of the expatriation enables you to evolve in your functions…
4 - Most spouses who responded to the Expat Value survey admitted to initially concentrating their research on international corporations, which is what they are familiar with when they have a baccalaureate and 4 years of university education. However in 50% of cases, it’s in a local structure that they have found employment. Orient your research from the outset towards small and medium sized local companies and you’ll save time!
… and four requests to corporations
1 – Accompany spouses of expatriates in their new surroundings! Assistance with job search once they have arrived is almost inexistent: 80% of expatriate spouses have not benefitted from any assistance. And in most cases it’s rarely the company of the expatriate who finances it (6%).
2 – More training and less bonuses! Couples need professional support for spouses or assistance with undertaking a project (information, training, support in creating a company). Training will contribute more to the well-being of the couple than expatriate bonuses offered in addition to salary.
3 –Why not create « leave to follow spouse abroad » along the model of leave without pay? To have the guarantee of employment in the same company upon return, what a relief that would be in this adventure!
4 – Companies should be proactively involved with the spouses of expatriates when the couple returns to France. Today, 40% of spouses benefit from assistance in finding employment and are able to reintegrate into the workforce. But in 1 out of 2 cases, this assistance is given by the national employment agency and is considered not sufficiently adapted. The return is in fact regarded as the most difficult stage of expatriation but this is when companies let go. It would be in their interest to do better so that the example of those returning doesn’t dissuade those who might potentially go...Systematic training for expatriate spouses before their departure and when they return, is simple to put in place and its efficiency proven.
More about Expat Communication
People are at the heart of successful international mobility. As of 2001 we have been putting in place, with passion and creativity, innovative and concrete services which respond to identified needs of companies regarding employees and their mobility. Our approach is one of transition. Our expertise is to facilitate personal changes experienced by employees, their spouses and their children via :
- Training for spouses ( pre departure, returning, impatriates ) in French and in English
- Support in their search for employment when expatriated and when they return
- Workshops for children and adolescents ( pre departure and on return)
- Coaching for spouses and employees ( pre departure, during their stay and on return)
- Training for HR international mobility managers
Subscription to the internet site: www.femmexpat.com, dedicated to expatriate women (employee spouses).To find out more: www.expatcommunication.com