As the world prepares to mark International Men’s Day on November 19, global businesses are reporting an increase in the numbers of men who move abroad to support their partner’s career – and are having to battle sexist attitudes.
In the past, women who moved to support their husband were labelled as the ‘trailing spouse’ by old-school business and in fact even today only 20 per cent of those on international assignments are women.
However, recent reports suggest it is not only women who have to cope with outmoded attitudes in the modern business world.
Jo Latimer, Global Partner Support Manager at Crown World Mobility, a company which helps corporations manage global talent, believes the tables are turning after consulting some of her executive career coaches located in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Prague and the USA.
“We are seeing an increase in the number of women assignees with accompanying male partners and that brings with it different challenges.
“Even in countries where it was almost unthinkable in the past that men would be the ‘trailing spouse’, places like India, Brazil, Mexico and Russia, you can see things changing.
“It is sometimes difficult to raise the problems men face working abroad when juxtaposed
with the issues women have had to cope with – such as conscious or unconscious bias, missing rungs on the promotion ladder and the infamous glass ceiling.
“But just as we talk about those issues on International Women’s Day it is only right, on International Men’s Day, to recognise there also exist problems and prejudices for men too – especially when they are away from home, immersed in a difficult culture.”
Latimer believes men who move abroad to support their partner’s career suffer some unique problems. These include:
- Facing greater issues than women in finding a new support network of friends.
- Risking an identity crisis when they can no longer define themselves through their work.
- Suffering prejudice in societies where men staying at home to look after the children is still stigmatised.
“Men often base their identities more on career than place in community, and they arrive in a new country expecting it to be easy to find opportunities to continue that career. But that isn’t always the case,”
“For women there seems to be a better support network to deal with that, there are often activities organised by the ‘experienced’ expat women and they find it easier to reach out and to admit when they feel lonely or unhappy.”
That is a concern for corporations who know the performance of their star players abroad are often linked to the happiness of the whole family – and whether they are able to settle into a new environment.
“Men can suffer prejudice too,” added Latimer. “In many cultures there is nothing unusual about a woman who chooses to take a back seat to her husband´s career – even when the woman is equally educated. But when a man decides to drop his career to follow his wife, in some societies he is stigmatised, or even teased about no longer being the man of the house.
“But things are certainly changing. While 12-13 years ago it was unlikely to see couples from India, Brazil, Mexico and Russia going on assignments led by the woman, now we do see couples/families from these cultures where either they both want to work or where the man will put his career on hold.
“The good news is that this can have a positive impact on gender equality and can be encouraging for women who, as we know, are still often overlooked in the boardroom. But at the same time we need to recognise the support men require in return and how global mobility programmes may need to change to provide that support.”
International Men’s Day, which began in 1992, is now recognised in 70 countries – including the UK and the US – promoting gender equality, improving gender relations and highlighting male role models.
This year’s theme is Celebrate Men and Boys and sees 65 events, campaigns and celebrations scheduled in the UK alone, including a Parliamentary debate. Premier League football club AFC Bournemouth is to mark the day before their match against Huddersfield on November 18 while the Royal Festival Hall hosts a festival on November 24 to focus on the challenges of masculine identity in the 21sth century.
“It’s certainly a good time to think about the issues men face in business and in general,” said Latimer. “Global mobility teams are always looking at ways to support assignees and their families to ensure their time abroad is successful – and it is not only women who need that support.”