Men who move to support a partner’s career can encounter sexism

To mark International Men’s Day, Crown’s Global Partner Support Manager explores the issues

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 percent of those on international assignments are women.International Men's Day

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, believes the tables are turning after consulting some of her Executive Career coaches located in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Prague and the U.S..

She says, “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 recognize there also exist problems and prejudices for men too – especially when they are away from home, immersed in a difficult culture.”

Jo 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 stigmatized.

“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,” says Jo.

“For women there seems to be a better support network to deal with that, there are often activities organized 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 in to a new environment.

“Men can suffer prejudice too,” adds Jo. “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 stigmatized, or even teased about no longer being the man of the house.

“But things are certainly changing. While 12 to 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 recognize the support men require in return and how global mobility programs may need to change to provide that support.”

International Men’s Day, which began in 1992, is now recognized in 70 countries for promoting gender equality, improving gender relations and highlighting male role models.

“It’s certainly a good time to think about the issues men face in business and in life in general,” says Jo. “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.”

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