by Marian Schembari (New York City)
We can’t think of anything better for a woman than travel. And as a professional woman, what better way to experience the world than to become an expat? The cultural experiences alone are enough to make us want to hop on the next plane to Amsterdam, but the added bonus of enhancing your résumé makes it even more tempting.
Sending employees abroad is becoming more common. A survey by ORC Worldwide shows that 56% of companies have increased their expat usage. But, as usual, it’s mostly men who are jumping on this particular bandwagon. Catalyst research points out that only 13% of Americans managers who are sent abroad are women, despite representing 49% of professionals. However, women are more likely than men to accept a position abroad as 80% agree to relocation compared to only 71% of men.
But where to go? Here are the top 10 global locations for executive women, listed in no particular order:
Wage gap: 73.6%
Percent of female senior officials/managers: 30.7%
Pros: Despite Switzerland’s late start on women’s rights (they didn’t get the vote until 1971!), they have gone above and beyond 40 years later. One of the first women at a Swiss bank with a managerial role, Esther Tait, writes: “it is easier to work part-time in Switzerland than it is in most countries and very many mothers definitely do so.” Plus, the country is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world and English is widely spoken. Add to that great public transport, vacation time and reasonable working hours.
Cons: High cost of living and complicated government administration. Expats often complain it’s hard to get involved with the Swiss, who tend to stay firmly within their established social circles. Also, childcare can get very expensive here.
Wage gap: 73.4%
Percent of female senior officials/managers: 37.9%
Pros: There is a long-term expat community and Europe is right at your doorstep. Plus, it’s France. Mavis Negroni, who worked in France a few years back raves about cultural and social opportunities and gives these words of advice: “it is essential to be polite always and observe the customs of interaction, as opposed to just being “an American in Paris”
Cons: It’s expensive and we’ve been told that there are limited professional growth opportunities for women.
Wage gap: 71.6%
Percent of female senior officials/managers: Data not available
Pros: According to people we spoke with, expats usually stay in Belgium longer than most countries. One reason might be the affordable and good healthcare for everyone, expat or otherwise.
Cons: The language and cultural divide within the country itself can be confusing. Expats have also reported frustration with the customer service, like long lines and poor return policies.
Wage gap: 72.8%
Percent of female senior officials/managers: 32.1%
Pros: There is a lower cost of living in Spain than in other parts of Europe. And, the highest number of female expats (81%) who report feeling happiest with their life abroad are based in Spain.
Cons: There is a slightly (and unfortunately stereotypical) chauvinistic culture in Spain. Some women have reported higher than normal levels of physical and sexual harassment, though it mostly goes unreported. That being said, writer Sarah Rogers told me, “Personally, the difficulties I encountered didn’t stem from being female at all, but from the process of gaining permission to work in another country. But nowadays I feel that I have plenty of options and my job prospects in Spain are good.”
- Hong Kong
Wage gap: 68.8%
Percent of female senior officials/managers: 16.8%
Pros: English is widely spoken in Hong Kong, which has a large and thriving expatriate community. British expat Marion Mapstone says, “Working with the multi-cultural mix of Cantonese and Indians and Europeans and Antipodeans was a delight where you felt you were sharing ideas with the whole world.”
Cons: The “aggressive” characteristic that so often accompanies professional women is often seen as offensive in Asian countries and, anecdotally, we understand that women are more often subject to discrimination than they would be elsewhere.
- United Kingdom
Wage gap: 73.7%
Percent of female senior officials/managers: 34%
Pros: A popular destination for Americans because of its shared language coupled with the ideal location. For women in particular, family leave policies are significantly better. Monique Jordan, who worked in London for a year wrote me saying, “What made the UK so great was the comfort it allowed my family. How do you put that into words? I was able to globalize my career and give my daughter the most amazing field trips in the world.”
Cons: Taxes can get up to as much as 40%. If you’re not a Brit, this can get kind of annoying seeing as it’s not even your government.
Wage gap: 82.4%
Percent of female senior officials/managers: 31.2%
Pros: Viktoria Orizarska, from 100 Women in Hedge Funds, told me “I can only speak like a finance person here, but I don’t think there is a better country for a woman to work in than a Scandinavian country.” As previously reported on The Glass Hammer, Norway has a mandatory quota of women (implemented in 2002) requiring there to be at least 40% women on corporate boards. Women are also happiest in the Nordic country – who wouldn’t be with five weeks vacation time you’re practically forced to take?
Cons: Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Plus, it gets really dark during winter months.
- The Philippines
Wage gap: 75.7%
Percent of female senior officials/managers: 57.1%
Pros: Professional women are in no way uncommon in the Philippines and the success of women here is a little known fact. The Filipino way of life is famously pressure-free and slow (in a good way).
Cons: A number of expat boards warn that foreigners should keep their guard up. A mentality seems to exist that Americans and Europeans can afford anything and are frequently taken advantage of.
- New Zealand
Wage gap: 78.6%
Percent of female senior officials/managers: 39.6%
Pros: New Zealand fully embraces women in leadership roles; in 2006, NZ was the only country in the world to have all high offices occupied by women (Queen Elizabeth, Helen Clark, Margaret Wilson). Even better, on June 30th of this year, businesses in Wellington gave women a discount to support the Pay Equity rally – the discount matched the difference between men and women’s earnings. Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes, based in New Zealand and running a website for working women, says this about the Kiwis: “The truth is that women’s careers here are still a labyrinth, and we need our mentors, networks, and supportive spouses to progress… when professional women in New Zealand have access to these supportive frameworks they are successful.”
Cons: Isolated. Since one of the biggest forms of stress for women expats is leaving family and friends behind, geography can be a problem. The New Zealand dollar isn’t always the strongest, but in this economy, that’s not saying much.
- The Netherlands
Wage gap: 74%
Percent of female senior officials/managers: Data not available
Pros: Expats and locals alike get some serious vacation time here –often up to ten weeks paid.
Cons: The red tape is ridiculous. Women on Expatica have written about the difficulties eating out, opening bank accounts and obtaining a drivers license. Unless you are actually of Dutch origin, it’s significantly harder for foreigners to settle in to a new life in the Netherlands.