Tailoring International Assignments to working mothers

The offer of an expatriate position can raise a number of questions for women with children. If mothers’ concerns are addressed and communicated effectively by their employer, this can help to increase expatriate gender diversity, explains Dr Sue Shortland.

Summer-issue-240619b
 
Relocate magazine summer 2019 issue
This article is taken from the latest issue of Relocate magazine.
– the must read for HR, global managers and relocation professionals.After having children, women’s propensity to accept international assignments tends to decline. Indeed, women who have children may simply give little thought to international mobility opportunities, possibly believing that being a mother might preclude them from undertaking an expatriate assignment. Concerns over how to balance a demanding job with raising children present major dilemmas to women who will not wish to jeopardise child-rearing, even if an assignment will further their career.If organisations are to increase expatriate gender diversity – for example, by encouraging mothers to accept international assignments – they need to communicate the support available within their international assignment policies that applies to families. Typically, the focus of this is on payment of school fees and destination services related to finding appropriate schooling for children. These are, indeed, of major significance to parents, who will want their children to receive the best possible schooling and to ensure that their individual needs are addressed wherever they may be educated in the world. Yet, a focus on schooling alone is insufficient to convince women with children to accept international assignments. This is because mothers, in particular, need to weigh up a number of other factors before they will agree to accept a job role in an expatriate capacity.It might be questioned why the views of mothers should be any different from that of fathers when considering an expatriate job offer. As highlighted by an HR representative, “Men have the same challenges, but it is more so for women as you get further up the tree, societal pressures, childcare, etc, have an effect.” So organisations do need to focus on how mothers view the totality of the expatriate experience and communicate this effectively. As one relocated female assignee commented, “To what extent does being a mum change your view of expatriation? I say two things... proximity to the office and affordable childcare.”

Housing, commuting and the school-run 

Expatriation is often presumed to involve a workload that can result in a poor work-life balance. Although expatriate duties are demanding, it is important to remember that there are a number of positive aspects of the expatriate lifestyle that can be beneficial to families. Generally, expatriate housing is of good quality and, where possible, is close to the worksite and/or close to international schools.Where expatriate housing is close to the office, this means that commuting times can actually be lower than in the employee’s home country, which enables increased levels of family time. Expatriate housing may also be close to international schools, allowing easier drop-off and collection of children by working parents. Expatriates also report more favourable school hours in some countries, which will allow them to combine school-runs with their work duties more easily, again giving parents more input into their children’s lives than might have been possible in their home country.The location of the assignment can also be in host areas with very family-friendly cultures. In some countries, excellent quality childcare, nannies and maids are available at a very affordable cost. These mean that mothers are able to utilise childcare services easily, helping them to combine motherhood with their international career. Family-friendly cultures also tend to promote a good work- life balance and are exceptionally supportive of working parents.

Health, welfare and family stability 

Another issue, of course, concerns the health and welfare of children. Once again, the location of the assignment plays an important part in any decisions made by relocating parents. Health facilities and medical care, as well as safety and security issues, should all be carefully explained, as these will be crucial factors in moving abroad with children.The assignment type is a further important consideration for working mothers. Long-term assignments are offered on an accompanied basis, which enables family unity and stability. Research has shown that women with children prefer long-term assignments over unaccompanied, short-term or more flexible mobility, such as international commuting. Employers might, therefore, wish to consider the objectives of the international role and, if these suit a long-term posting, spell out the benefits of long-term assignments for family life. If short-term assignments can be undertaken on an accompanied basis, this should also be communicated.Not all places in the world will be best suited to mothers relocating with children. However, many destinations do offer excellent opportunities for youngsters to gain an international outlook and obtain excellent schooling, while their mothers benefit from the career advantages of expatriation. Employers can widen the diversity of their international assignee profiles by highlighting the compatibility of motherhood with an expatriate career. Going beyond a focus on school support can pay dividends in helping mothers to gain awareness of how they can pursue an international career, while also best supporting their children in growing up.
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