Gen Y and X Women Abroad

Young professionals are broadly defined as “Generation X-Y” – all with their own unique set of challenges and skills. Often single and in the earlier stages of progressing their careers, Gen X-Y pats tend to go into their expatriate experience dramatically unprepared and underserved.

An interesting fact that emerged was that the Mercer Human Resource Consulting International Assignment Survey found that women are less likely to be accompanied abroad by a partner than male managers. This is because partners of “high flyer” females are often in high-powered and established careers themselves.

I think that these encouraging findings show that over half of the organisations that participated in this survey expected the number of Generation X -Y females working abroad to increase over the next five years.

A counter-argument exists, however, which questions whether Generation X-Y females actually gain anything beyond what is, in effect, a low-cost work experience without full development potential.

Margaret Malewski, author of the book “GenXpat,” makes the challenge of country hopping in search of adventure seem easy. Nevertheless, meeting people in a foreign setting and communicating in a foreign language are challenges for anyone. And since Generation X-Y females are often recruited on a local basis, they generally do not receive additional support.

The appeal wears off and these women are left to face reality. It is important that before a posting abroad, one needs to know where one is in the personal and work life cycle and what her priorities are. If one is ambitious, eager to live and work abroad, your drive and motivation for success will probably tide you over for any loneliness or homesickness.

Another angle is that Generation X-Y females tend to have a much more pro-active attitude than previous generations, albeit more nebulous in interpretation, in so far as organisations are willing to spend less on such individuals and consequently offer them less support.

Malewski calls these individuals “hidden expats,” hired locally, living like natives and having most of their needs go unnoticed by head office. This is endorsed by an article from Fiere and Finn on international project managers: “HR people have spent a lot of time on expatriation, forgetting that there are a lot of international managers, who even if they’re not expatriates, have to live with different cultures.”

What may be Generation X-Y females’ main motivations for going abroad? The most important personal and career objectives are: • seeking a new challenge/adventure • better future prospects • career advancement • in the minority — being a trailing spouse

It is obvious from my findings that the impact of working abroad is seen as a personal development objective as well as giving rise to promotional opportunities in organisations. It is thus valid to assume that women from Generation X-Y who want to work across borders and those organisations that send employees abroad should consider a pro-active approach towards local and international assignments for expatriation overseas.

This process would involve constructively influencing those who decide to take on the challenge along with creating a working environment that is obliged to consider the human (soft) aspect of expatriation.

In particular, the issues of collaboration, networking and negotiation are vital elements that cannot be omitted from a female born in the Generation X-Y era, the total skills’ package that is necessary in today’s business environment.

Knowing what one wants and asking for it, specifically, is fundamental to any female career advancement. Thus, the development entails having to deal with changing competencies.

Further, it also involves changing attitudes and behaviours, company-wide as well as re-enforcing the need for the implementation of transparent, fair and consistent expatriate policies and procedures that should be made available to everyone, whether based locally or abroad.

I would particularly emphasize the importance of understanding the impact on Generation X-Y females and their organisations for sending women abroad, the structures, cultures and philosophy of working abroad, as well as highlighting the social impact on the females’ individual social life and career.

Women often face the predicament of whether to continue their careers abroad or to return home while the employing organisation believes it is doing everything in its own right to make coming home trouble-free.

Nonetheless, organisations need to acknowledge that the strategic value of employing Generation X-Y females locally (on localised country terms and benefits) or via an international assignment is largely upon them to manage.

Nevertheless, one respondent assured me “you have to do for your own sake first. It is not always the best for one’s career (far away from power decision), but it brings a lot personally,” thus clearly accepting the opportunities available out there for females to grasp.

I believe that Generation X-Y women have just begun to comprehend their significance and the potential power of working abroad. Thus these female employees should be able to apply new-found knowledge and skills to identify what action is necessary to gain and maintain a competitive personal edge.

Indeed, international work is no longer the preserve of senior employees. As many of these people climb the career ladder, it is likely that these two generations will, in turn, become the New Generation of “Global Nomads.” Organisations should prepare themselves for the globe-trotting women of Generation X-Y.

In situations where companies endeavour to make positive use of those females willing to work abroad, the company is likely to prosper. Conversely, failure to optimise on the skill sets offered by these adventurous females will no longer be an option in today’s competitive labour market.

Ultimately, in such an environment, working abroad will become more of a lottery for potential candidates. Generation X-Y females and organisations that are sufficiently innovative will adhere to ethical considerations and uphold the value of the female working abroad in her own right. Moreover, those organisations will attract the interest of many generations of (new) female employees.

The results of my research suggest that the females of Generation X-Y working abroad encounter many challenges, from informing the organisation of their initial interest in working overseas to being chosen to take up an international assignment; from looking for work locally to cross-cultural challenges and gender stereotyping.

Organisations that adopt a fully supportive approach to assisting and facilitating work possibilities abroad and those which uphold fair scope for career advancement and opportunities overseas will stand a much better chance of successfully employing Generation X and Y individuals!

(c) 2011 Human Resources Global Ltd.

Nicole Le Maire is an international Human Resources expert who offers tailor-made packages to meet organisational and individual international goals and who has done many studies on Expatriates Abroad.

Email her at [email protected]


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