Female-led assignments show how it’s done

Expat couples/families going on assignment fare better when they’ve moved for the woman’s job, not the man’s – and no, it’s got nothing to do with a woman’s intuition. Just healthy, holistic decision making.

A recurring trend

Yvonne McNulty, a senior lecturer from the Singapore University, who specialises in expatriates and HR, has conducted extensive research on couples moving for one person’s job and noticed one recurring trend over the years: when the partner being offered the overseas role is a woman, the assignment is invariably successful. “Women expatriates almost without exception handle relocations differently – and I would argue more successfully – than men,” she said.

A family affair

When assignments are cut short, it’s usually for family reasons. McNulty’s hypothesis is that women do a better job of ensuring that the new job and move will be good for the whole family (they also do a good job of handling repatriation). The fundamental aspect is that the assignment was “an authentic joint decision” and the husband is 100% onboard. Or as McNulty put it: “No guilt trips, no nonsense. Women are smart that way.”

Three’s the magic number

So what can be learned from this? McNulty believes it comes down to the female expats engaging in healthy decision making: “Women expats look at it far more holistically in terms of money plus relationships / family wellbeing plus career. If one of those is off, they don’t do the relocation, because they know that success will only happen when all three are in place.”

Sense of identity

However, McNulty has also noted that men who take on the role of accompanying partner tend to be more proactive than women in seeking out work or projects that give them a sense of identity that is independent from the marriage, which can be another crucial ingredient in a successful assignment. So when a couple or family is planning to move for the man’s job, both the man and woman can take inspiration from these female-led assignments.

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