Challenges for Expatriates: Gender

Men and women each have their own struggles in the world of expatriation. Generally speaking, each gender has their own set of priorities and different levels and means of dealing with the stress that comes from being away from your native country.

Typically female expatriates followed their husbands on their relocation, but this is now changing with many more women taking on new roles abroad. No longer are these expatriate women viewed as shielded from the stresses of adapting to life in a foreign culture; they are front and centre.

The question remains as to which gender copes best with their relocation. While men are typically more receptive to the idea of repatriation and women can often be more reticent to remove their family from their native country, once the relocation has been made it is in fact women who appear to best make the cultural adjustment. Following research and surveys it’s been shown that females are typically better in building and maintaining relationships with host nationals, due to usually higher interpersonal skills. To work successfully in a new culture, these interpersonal skills are essential. Women, it would seem, are ideal expatriate candidates.

Yet, each gender faces different attitudes from their host country. With many work placements in countries that are less developed or hold more traditional gender values than the UK or USA, such as the Middle East or India, women can face tough opposition. In these countries the business environment is overwhelmingly male, and women can face restrictions on their dress, whether they can be in the same room as men and even whether they can drive a car. Although these obstacles are not insurmountable, men have the advantage here.

In the research conducted around this subject, cultural adjustment has been divided into three distinct groups: i) general adjustment (the adaptation of general living) ii) work adjustment and iii) interactional adjustment. While men and women are almost identical in their general adjustment, women have the upper hand in terms of work and interactional adjustment, often able to outperform their male counterparts on certain tasks.

Men do still dominate the number of expatriates, but perhaps with findings such as this the difference will level out and the number of women undertaking international assignment will continue to rise.