Can women succeed in an international career?

Can women succeed in an international career?

All companies today are enhancing diversity. But internationally, women have the status of following spouses rather than senior executives.

Women international career or expatriate spouses? Today, when we talk about expatriate women, we think more of « following » spouses. More than 4 out of 5 French people expatriate as a couple, and in 9 out of 10 cases, it is the woman who follows her spouse in expatriation, according to a survey by Expat Communication, la Caisse des Français de l’Etranger and Humanis. These women take time to find jobs or find jobs that do not meet expectations in terms of responsibilities and pay, with the feeling of « sacrificing » their careers.

And while international mobility is a real springboard for the careers of senior executives, the average expatriate position offered to women is 15 to 20%.

L’Oréal encourages international mobility for women

A feminised group. Women have an important place at l’Oréal and represent 70% of the company’s total workforce, 62% of managers, 33% of the members of the Executive Committee and 46% of the members of the Board of Directors (results published in December 2016).

L’Oréal, international accompanist for women. Inciting women to international mobility, the group wants to show women that it is as possible for them as men to leave and build a professional life abroad. Result? At the end of 2009, they represented 30% of expatriate employees and nearly 42% of new expatriates, thanks to well thought-out and well followed support programmes (preparation for departure, support for spouses, etc.). Other companies that support women internationally include Danone, which designed the EVE programme in partnership with L’Oréal, Orange, la Caisse des Dépôts group, SNCF, Crédit Agricole and KPMG. Of the 700 Danone managers working abroad, 20% are women.

And these figures are still likely to change with the arrival of young generation women (generation Y and Z in particular) on the labour market71% of whom want to work abroad. The expatriation of women is only at its beginning.

« The myth of the inexpatriable woman », Olivier Mérignac

Clichés, modern poison. Women represent half of the active population in the 21st century, now occupy 30 to 50% of positions of responsibility and are as well qualified as men. However, only 15% of women in large companies occupy expatriate positions, whereas mobility is a real lever for promotion. Why? The taboos inscribed in the minds of the employees themselves, the directors and the spouses, undermine women’s access to international mobility and follow them when they manage to move abroad. Olivier Mérignac reports that « persistent myths and prejudices concerning women, their relationship to mobility, and their ability to adjust and succeed during expatriation » persist in companies.

Recruitment bias. What are they? Companies think that they do not want to leave, that they are « more reasonable and less ambitious » (Françoise Cazalis de Fondouce), that they do not want to destabilize their families. And since women earn less than their husbands, career choice will be made on the highest salary. As a result, little information is available on vacancies for women. The international mobility manager of a chemical company said that « women are less willing to make these personal sacrifices (…) and they are right to want to prioritize their family life » (Olivier Mérignac, « Women in the expatriation process« , Travail, genre et sociétés).

Prejudices about adjustment difficulties. An international mobility manager in the automotive sector exclaimed: « for an expatriation where it is necessary to play elbows to make its place, their sensitivity handicape them » (Source: Olivier Mérignac). Expatriates are not only challenged for their adaptability but also because of their status as women who exclude them from business in some countries. It is thought that they will find it difficult to be accepted by their staff in the host country and that it will be difficult for them to adapt to a new professional and cultural environment. The person in charge of international mobility in the agri-food sector notified that « some Asian executives get upset when they see women arriving » (Source: Olivier Mérignac).

However, women succeed as well as men in their expatriation mission, the objectives are achieved and the expatriation is completed. Moreover, they are so used to facing discrimination that they are sometimes better able to assert themselves and their rights.

Age as an expatriation factor. Women expatriates are often young or senior (under 30 or over forty). They are not expected to leave when they are of childbearing age, whereas 70% of expatriate men do have families and children.

Women’s self-censorship. Faced with so much prejudice, discouraged, they tend to censor themselves and do not apply when they see a job offer for a job abroad, not imagining leaving because of their spouse’s career or family situation, and being convinced that they will not be selected by the company.

A rebalancing of roles within the couple should be considered to enable women in their thirties to succeed in their careers.

Times change, so do women. Françoise Cazalis de Fondouce reports that « expatriation for women is becoming a real trend. For several reasons: first, sectors traditionally providing expatriates are feminizing, such as industry, engineering, auditing and finance. Women are no longer afraid to leave, « Some have studied or interned abroad, have gone to Erasmus, and are no longer afraid to leave. Culture, education, pharmacy, luxury become sectors where it is no longer rare to transfer a woman abroad. Finally, some companies are now keen to promote, through diversity programmes, the accession of women to management positions.

Union is strength. Today, there are no fewer than 200 professional networks for women. The EVE program, of course, at Danone and L’Oréal, but also Elles and WIT (Women in Technology) at IBM, O’Pluriel at Air Liquide, Mu’Tu’Elles at La Macif, Think’Elles at Lenovo, Inter’Elles at EDF, 50/50 at HSBC, Alter gales at Caisse des Dépôts.

Conclusion: Supporting women

Finally, once prejudices have been overcome, the same support can be offered to women and men:

  • Clarify the issues and expectations of the position
  • Develop intercultural skills (Understanding cultural differences, Communication, Team motivation, Uncertainty management)
  • Accompanying you to your new position (90 days)
  • Strengthening leadership and impact
  • Support the spouse’s career (and/or retraining)
  • Anticipate and prepare the return to transfer the new skills acquired abroad

As for expatriate men, in order to succeed in their international mission, women can benefit from support from the moment they take up their position, to develop their intercultural and feminine leadership.

Expats are better prepared for tomorrow’s key soft skills

Expats are better prepared for tomorrow’s key soft skills

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) study to determine the skills needed to face the job market in 2020, technical skills are no longer as required as managerial and behavioral skills. The WEF releases 10 key soft skills for 2020:

Solving complex problems; Critical thinking; Creativity; People management; Coordination with others; Emotional intelligence; Judgment and decision-making; Service Orientation; Negotiation and Cognitive Flexibility

These key skills cross competences already developed by expats executives and managers.

Cultural adjustment, comfort zone and key soft skills 

To navigate in their permanent change environment, expatriates must strengthen and develop some qualities: openness to others, clarity and understanding of one’s own culture and values, ability to question its behaviors and decisions, listening and analyzing its new environment, which are fundamental for the development of tomorrow’s soft-skills.

Open-mindedness and hindsight

The prerequisite for any adjustment in a multicultural environment is the ongoing recognition that different modes of perception and behavior are all acceptable. Each of us apprehends life, situations, contexts in a different way, and different approaches, perceptions and interpretations of the same idea are normal.

Multicultural Collaboration and Building commitment

Key soft skill: intercultural communication

Organizations are more and more horizontal and evolve by project, remotely, internationally. Expatriates are permanently learning to adapt to new structures, cultures, contexts, to maintain the link with the headquarters, to foster cooperation. They develop interpersonal skills, listening, sharing, intercultural communication, distance from their own references and certainties, ability to adjust their natural management style according to situations, language skills …

Go beyond language and intercultural clichés

Intercultural trainings are essential, but can be counterproductive if poorly supported, and reinforce stereotypes! We collaborate with complex individuals, sometimes fed with multiple cultures, and the knowledge of these cultural clichés will quickly be insufficient … The cooperation goes through a deep understanding and a sharing of the values, motivations and objectives of each one.

Management of multicultural teams

It requires a lot of effort, but it is shown that if the monocultural teams are more efficient in the short term (we start right away without having to clarify the understanding of the objectives, operation modes, decision-making, etc.), the Multicultural teams are more effective over time! Still, we must resist the first stage (sometimes very long) of explanations, vision sharing, approaches and practices exchange, choice of a shared strategy …

Digital and remote collaboration tools

Expats are led to remote management of regional teams and learn to use collaborative tools (chat, teleconferences, shared tools). They compensate isolation and distance through the enhanced use of digital means to find relevant information, analyze, filter, but also generate their own content (not just to tell anecdotes on Facebook), and of course keep on training with online programs.

Agility and adaptability, uncertainty management

Fragmented careers, combining periods of expatriation from 2 to 5 years, from one continent to another and from one culture to another, allow expatriate managers to develop a cross-section of expertise, knowledge and these key soft skills. They know how to adapt, are familiar with a helicopter vision that allows them to quickly analyze very different situations. They learned how to get out of their comfort zone and navigate by sight (and stay on course in the turbulence!).

Expatriates are more likely to align and develop their skills on 3 levels: mental (knowledge and understanding of their environment), emotional (management of frustration and uncertainty, navigate outside their comfort zone), action (efficiency, decision-making and achievement of mission objectives).

Creativity and innovation

key soft skill: creativity and innovationExpatriates who successfully adapt (not those who freeze their positions on anger or denial) take a fresh look at both the situation in office and the context and organization in the country. Openness to new cultures offers new ways of seeing, ways of doing things, ways of being. They have to create new solutions and to use approches their are not familiar with.

Leadership, initiative and autonomy

At distance from headquarters, without a peer or on-site partner, expatriate managers are sent to post to analyze, adapt, create and accompany change and transformations and implement strategies. What they do on their own, taking on them, transforming in the best cases isolation in autonomy, they become intrapreneurs, comfortable in risk taking (which can become additive among expatriates: pay attention to the return which seems very bland!) and decision-making.

Networks and influence

Internationally, they are led to develop new networks, influence and political intelligence. The functions abroad are strongly put forward, representative of the organization, the internationals are brought to speak and to embody the strategic choices put in place.

Organizational capacity

Changing countries every 3 years requires great organizational capacity. If only at the personal level, it is the whole family, the house, the administrative that must be reviewed every time. Account opening, registrations, subscriptions, papers, declarations, moving, boxes … They learn to master tight retro-planning, become champions of personal and professional efficiency, time management and priorities.

Learn to learn

Expatriate managers are constantly renewing their skills, questioning their methods, taking a step back from their processes, transferring their skills from job to job, from one team or one organization to another…

Key soft skills and repatriation

Transferable key soft skill

Unfortunately, the end of mission is not always anticipated and when returning back, all these benefits are lost:

  • The company do not know what to do with the collaborator / He wonders what he is doing there
  • There is no suitable position, the organization has changed
  • No assessment or transferability of skills acquired in post
  • The feeling of going back
  • No use of the network in a different setting
  • Disconnecting from the corporate culture
  • Difficulties of repatriation (for the collaborator and his family)

25% of expatriates will leave their companies within 2 years after their return. And I do not speak about the 40% of expatriates for whom the experience abroad is a failure from the very first year (difficulties in adjustment of the manager or his family, misunderstanding of the expectations of the mission and the post, denial of cultural differences or crystallization on the impossibility of deploying locally the strategy imagined at headquarters, are so many pitfalls easy to fall in).

With these lost executives along the way, companies are deprived of essential skills for tomorrow. Remember to anticipate these key skills in your internal or external recruitment grids of your expats! Taking into account from the very beginning the skills to be strengthened abroad has multiple benefits for both the company and the employee:

  • Better retention of executives in the company
  • Better communication of culture and group strategy
  • Transferable adaptability skills at return
  • Access to larger positions and development of HP
  • Strategic international network useful for the collaborator and the organization

To go further, book your seat at our free online conference « How to improve your intercultural skills » on Tuesday 12 December – 12:00 CET

About the author

Isabelle Goyon – Global Coaching for Expats works with executives, managers, expats & partners, men & women all over the world, who want to successfully overcome the high stakes of challenging transitions by improving: Intercultural Management & Communication skills, Leadership development & Women LeadershipCooperation and cohesion in their teams, Career relaunch for partners.

Are you culturally competent enough?

Are you culturally competent enough?

Intercultural competences, forgotten in the preparation?

Are you going in expatriation soon? Congratulations!

Your expertise, your experience are recognized, no doubt about it, your professional skills are strong. You have negotiated your « package », logistic and relocation are provided. It is generally the well mastered part of the management of international mobility…
Other aspects show mixed results… The performance management of the expatriates is often forgotten in the transition. And once the legal, logistical and financial aspects are settled, you are alone to adjust, to understand the cultural differences in your new position, to develop your networks, your leadership and your autonomy, to make strategic decisions and to prepare the the follow up…of the mission, the job, and your career …

Failures in expatriation (around 40% in the world) are measured according to precise indicators:

  • Early return from mission (with a cost of more than 1.5 years of salary for the company)
  • Under performance of the employee during the expatriation (with a strong impact on the confidence of the collaborator, the team, and the results of the mission)
  • Resignation of the employee after his return (25% from the first year)


And the factors of failure can be individual (stress management, few intercultural competences or bad motivations to leave), organizational (no clarification of the company’s expectations about the mission, too fast or frequent assignments, no link with the headquarters …) or external (political, economical or environmental situation of the country, for example)

First step: Ask yourself these questions!

  • Did I really clarify my expectations for this next job? The expectations of my company?
  • Did I define with my hierarchy the skills to be developed internationally, that can be valued on return?
  • Will I get coaching to support me, after linguistic or cultural training (often simple « zone briefing ») and allow me to « adjust » to the situations faced on the field?

Talent management in international mobility requires the development of intercultural competences, that is, the ability to adapt to people from other cultures while helping them to adapt to oneself. This cultural intelligence is not innate, but can be developed throughout your international mobility, for the benefit of individuals as well as for the benefit of companies.

Second step: Evaluate and improve!

To be able to develop intercultural competences, of course, you have to be able to assess them and build a clear, measurable and monitored development plan for these skills.

This is what I offer to you with Intercultural Readiness Check Assessment (IRC): Assess and develop 4 key competences of cultural intelligence!

  • Intercultural sensitivity: Ability to be interested in others, on different levels: cultural background, needs, point of view and way of expressing oneself. Ability to question one’s own culture and to consider other cultures as equally valid. Sensitivity to verbal and non-verbal signals sent by interlocutors during exchanges.
  • Intercultural communication: Ability to manage communication. The quality of the active listening of the participants in relation to the reactions of their interlocutors to a discourse. Ability to adapt their behavior to the needs of their interlocutors.
  • Ability to create commitment: Ability to influence one’s social environment, motivated by the desire to forge ties and integrate different people and their concerns. Ability to motivate a person and his or her ability to unite around a common goal, build relationships and build strong and diverse networks.
  • Uncertainty Management: Ability to perceive the uncertainty and complexity of culturally diverse environments as an opportunity for personal development. Ability to manage the additional complexity associated with cultural diversity, presence of unknown groups or unexpected constraints. Motivation to explore new approaches and perceive diversity as a stimulating learning source.

With the complete feedback of the assessment, you know what your strengths are, you understand your difficulties and you identify the skills to develop. And we elaborate a tailor-made action plan, adjusted to your personality, your particular context and your goals, both yours and those of your organization.

The test online will take about 20 ‘. Then we have a debriefing session of 2 hours by skype, + 2 sessions to adjust your action plan within 3 months.


Register now to pass the IRC assessment this summer, this is ideal time!

Cross-cultural competencies: start with the language!

Cross-cultural competencies: start with the language!

Globalization in our professional world gets us working more and more with people from different nationalities. Assignees all over the world experiment how difficult it is to understand, communicate, work with collaborators from other culture. Cultural and language skills overlap each other, and sometimes it is difficult to know wether the miscommunication is due to language blind spots or lack of  cultural understanding. Cross-cultural training and coaching is essential for assignees and teams to quickly reach the good level of efficiency.

Cross-cultural and language: Start here!

However, you cannot expect to be successful with your multicultural team or organization if you don’t understand each other when you speak together. Most of the time, even if the corporate language is French, Spanish or German, English is the common language for the international collaborators.

Yet, too many assignees all over the world are hindered by a bad level of English…

  • Do you consider it is important to improve your legitimacy with the right level of business english?
  • How do you evaluate your level of english today?


English Breeze is an English language training company in The Hague. They organize very specific workshops depending on your mother language : English blind spots for Dutch speaking people, French speaking people, or Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Chinese… Focused on prononciation or specific pitfalls of literal translation, mixed with cultural tips, these workshops are particularly powerful to improve your credibility in English speaking. 

I was looking forward to meeting Hayley Johnson, English Breeze founder in The Hague, to know better about her approach of cross-cultural skills improvement through language courses.

Hello Hayley! 

First of all, who are you? What is your background and how did you create English Breeze?

My name is Hayley Johnson, I am from the UK and my background is twofold; I have a masters in Sociology and Anthropology, plus I am a certified teacher of people with special needs. These two things combined gave me the drive and passion to meet people from all over the world and give them the unique treatment they deserve when trying to learn the English language. I like to celebrate differences and bring awareness of communication and relationship potential to all who are willing to learn. In this way I started English Breeze here in the Netherlands.

2. Who are the internationals you work with? What are their difficulties or needs?

I work with people who come from all over the globe. For some nationalities they need to find their own voice in English, they lose their personality when speaking English and this can be frustrating. For other nationalities they want to learn how to be more sociable in English and for others more professional. Sometimes a direct translation from one language to another can have the opposite effect we want it to have. It is this practical aspect of teaching the language that I really love. Allowing people to just speak and speak and speak until their confidence grows thanks to our guidance in accuracy and fluency.

3. What is your approach of cross-cultural skills? What are the difficulties in the organisation and for the collaborators?

Cross Culture is a very sensitive area. People are naturally proud and patriotic of their norms and values. And these things can be really shaken when they have to communicate with people from other countries. Therefore my approach is to remain sensitive and rather than insist on them changing their way, instead provide them with the information and knowledge empowering them to make a conscious decision of how they would like to communicate cross culturally. I am a big believer in that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, just different ways.

4. How can you help them and what are your different trainings?

I can help them by giving them the expressions, vocabulary and insight of English language that allows them to remain themselves professionally. The different training we offer can either be a full course including a practical grammar refresh, professional vocabulary and lots of practice. Or we offer weekend Blind Spot workshops for people who come from a specific language/country, this included typical language errors they make and also cultural self awareness. Apart from that we offer specific course options in pronunciation and writing skills for example.

5. To go further: A tip, an anecdote, an event, a special offer?

My mission with English Breeze is to help people live their lives comfortable in English language. That is why we provide a lot of social activities in English that are guided by a native speaking trainer. The best place to find these would be on our facebook page. 

For readers wishing to get involved this summer I would like to offer you 25% discount on all of our courses taking place between July 3rd and August 27th. Feel free to contact us using the discount CODE:EBIG42. 

The best tip is to silence the voice in your mind that tells you « you are making stupid mistakes! », keep practising and you will get there!

Thanks a lot, Hayley, and I’m looking forward to attending the next Blind Spots for French !





Whatever are your conditions for coming back from expatriation, you cannot do it without preparation. Expats often consider the repatriation even more difficult than expatriation… While you have a good knowledge about you home country, some friends and family waiting for you (or not), the return will give you a « strange familiarity » feeling…


You have been expatriated in a foreign country for years, and although you have well prepared it, you have faced difficulties adjusting to it, changing your habits, understanding other values, behaviors, communication modes. You have spent a lot of energy to adapt yourself and to find new ways of viewing, thinking, acting, and you are different now. Chances are that you struggle to feel comfortable back home. Prepare your return as a new assignment!


Anticipate your professional return and re-establish contact with your former and newly posted colleagues. There may have been some changes in the organigramme of your company or service and it’s never a bad thing to remind HR and peers you still exist! And specifically with HR, contact them some months/weeks before coming back to prepare your new job.


Take care of your friends, both in your adopted country and in your home country. Take time to say goodbye to all your new friends and acquaintances, and prepare to renew with your all friends and relatives. Explain you are moving again, don’t promise too much about the follow up, but make the effort to keep the link with people you like. And when you come back, try not to tell too much about you and your wonderful experience. On the contrary, be curious about your former friends and relatives at home to understand their life since you’re gone. Don’t assume that nothing has changed.


The expat packages often include a generous salary, enabling expats and their family to enjoy a lifestyle equal to that in their home country. When you come back, no more package. In fact, while returning, your spouse may not find a job right away, and you will face lower living standards for a time. Do anticipate this aspect not to add more difficulties for your first months.


Whether you are returning to your company Head office or you have to find a new job, do not skip the assessment of your new competencies, professional and soft skills. You have to clarify what you have learn during your stay and how you can use it in your new environment. Don’t make the error of feeling disconnected and may be less competitive than before leaving. You can value your experience abroad and be ambitious for the future.

Do you want to be supported to overcome your repatriation challenge?

I can help you with a specific coaching program all along the transition to make it successful!

Book your free diagnostic session by skype now!


Book a thirty minute free online session
Book here

Improve your Image to strengthen Self-confidence, Self-esteem and Assertiveness

Improve your Image to strengthen Self-confidence, Self-esteem and Assertiveness

Our image, appearance, clothes, the colors we wear, our pace, presence, charism, gestures, our way of behaving in society, the energy that drives us … Are real communication vectors in all human relationships.

These elements give clues to our interlocutors about our personality, authenticity and ability to be and do what we affirm. They sign us. It is the business card, the first, that we offer to our partners, collaborators, customers, prospects …

However, in companies, it is often observed that women leaders tend to suffer from a bad image. Worse, for more than half of the managers, (IMS Survey 2012) these women end up behaving like men, reinforcing the bad image they offer. The style of power for female leaders becomes a strict tailor, short hair, dark colors and above all nothing too original that might suggest the slightest frivolity … But to « masculinize » is not necessarily the solution. By dint of wanting to wear the mask, one loses also its identity, its forces, its qualities, its own character …

It is beneficial, on the contrary, to enhance your appearance, to reinforce the coherence between your own personality and the image you wish to give, to gain confidence and improve your professional charisma, professional credibility and a better fit with your work environment.

  • Dress according to your function, your interlocutors, the weather, the day of the week …
  • Identify your assets and the values ​​you want to convey
  • Use language colors and lines to gain credibility
  • Identify and improve non-verbal communication (personal style and gesture)

Concretely, how to translate this, when you are in front of your wardrobe?

I was still lost some weeks ago! Thankfully I met Conny Hermans, Image consultant who founded Censz Personal Styling in the Netherlands. She accompanies women who want to find their own style : the perfect colors, morphology, make-up, organizing wardrobes en personal shopping. Conny can help you with every aspect. She helped me a lot, couldn’t have done it myself.

Hello Conny! 

Image consultant

First of all, who are you? What is your background ?

My name is Conny Hermans, born in august 1965, married and 3 children, 1 of my own and 2 of my husband. I’ve been always been interested in fashion and make-up but it took me quite a while before I started this new business. Before I started Censz Personal styling I was in the army, had my own gym and slimming studio and worked in different office environments. During my work I did my education for make-up artist and image consultant. At my time at the office I became aware of my appearance and how people would react on me when I wore different clothing style. That’s when I started to realize that your clothes and style tell people who you are and if you are reliable and capable of the things you do. When they started a reorganization at my last job I decided to start my own business and teach women (and men) what they can do with their clothing and how I affects themselves but also your clients and customers.

Your customers: Who are they? What are their difficulties or needs?

My customers are ambitious men and women who are beware of the power of clothing but don’t know how to translate that to themselves. There are so many things to keep in mind for the perfect clothing style. To make your personality more visible so that it will work for you and not against you. They wanna feel more confidence, wanna be more visible at the work floor, taken more seriously and make the best first impression possible.

Your services: How can you help them and what are your offers?

I help people with image consults, that is 1 appointment in which we find your best colors and style. In which colors you will look at your best and which style suits you best and makes you feel balanced. When you have difficulties with you body we search for ways to camouflage or highlight them. Highlight your most pretty parts and camouflage the parts you’re not so happy with.

For women I also give them tips and tricks for the best make-up with the best natural make-up brand without nasties and will improve your skin instead of damaging it. At the end you know your best colors and which style suits you best. It gives you all the answers you need to create a perfect wardrobe for yourself. A wardrobe with only the best pieces and only things that are perfect for you. If you need help to organise your wardrobe I will help you too. In that case we need 2 appointments.

I also offer a personal shop session.  That will be a third session. If you don’t have time to shop or hate shopping then I can do it for you. There’s 2 options, I go pre-shopping and then you only have to come with me to 1 or 2 stores to match the clothes I picked for you. Or we shop together in you favorite stores and I help you pick the best options for you.

To go further: A board, an appointment, an event, a special offer?

If you feel inspired and also want to make the best first impression ever or want to make an appointment I’ll suggest a free inspiration talk first. Then we can talk things trough and I’ll explain exactly what I do and how I can help you.

In May (don’t know the exact date) I will organise a VIP-day for a group of 4 women in which they’ll discover the power of colors, dessins, accessories and styles.

On my website soon !