Grocery Money

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A few years ago, a girlfriend of mine was coming out of the baby haze of three children in as many years. Over coffee with friends she suggested she was ready to return to the office. Actually, she was ready to return anywhere, as long as it was out of her house and someone was prepared to pay her.

“I just want something part-time, just to dip my toes back in the water, and that extra grocery money would be good.”

I noticed the side eye glance between two other friends in the group.

“What was that about?” I asked my side eyed friend later on.

“Some of us don’t have the luxury of extra grocery money, some of us have to go back to work – you know, to eat and pay the mortgage?!”

In the expat world the notion of grocery money comes in a more sinister form.

When your career is transient and work permits or visas come before job offers and employment contracts, more often than not it’s women who find themselves and their careers as the after thought. And when I say after I mean after the children have places in school, after you’ve found a house, and after every day life doesn’t feel like a game of Survivor. Yes, there are plenty of men who travel with their partner’s career, but sadly they’re still in the minority.

I’ve noticed a theme when asking an expat mother for a quick resume breakdown. It’s likely you’ll receive geographical markings with each pregnancy or birth.

“I was a banker in London when I fell pregnant with our first, the job opportunity for my husband came up here and it made financial sense – that was two babies and three years ago” said a friend.

“We were both working for the same oil company in Norway when we met, but we moved here for his job, I figured it would be easy to find something once I got here.” said another.

“I worked in a market in the States that just doesn’t exist here, and no-one would ever pay me as much” said a girlfriend over the phone.

“Why?” I knew the answer, but I wanted to double check.

“When I go for the interview they know I’m already here on my husband’s visa, they know that my choices are limited and I need the job. Often they’ll actually say out loud that they want a travelling spouse, that they’re not offering housing, school fees or sponsorship, and the salary isn’t as strong.”

“Do they offer those things to other people in the office?”

“Of course they do – they’re just taking advantage of the talent pool on the ground.”

I sat outside late yesterday afternoon with a girlfriend, she’d just finished a rather harrowing day at work, a day which required a strong cup of coffee at its end.

We talked of the conference I went to over the weekend. Of how dodgy the industry can be because PR companies won’t openly discuss how they calculate payment to Bloggers. Often there’s no fee per word, or algorithm based on stats. Things are progressing but there’s a long way to go.

Every day I am asked to work for free. Every day a national PR company comes to me often representing a huge international brand, asking for access to the audience of this page. Although we don’t have a budget we’d be happy to send you an xyz to review.

“I know that it makes good business sense for them to offer as little as possible, but it just feels shady. I can’t help but feel I’m being manipulated.”

My girlfriend offered an opinion. “I think it’s probably because they think of bloggers as mothers at home, just trying to earn a bit of extra cash”.

And there it was again. Grocery money.

With over 15 years of recruiting experience I know how this works. I’ve written the job descriptions while clients have given me their “ideal candidate”.

“This would be a nice one for a Mum” a suit will say with a wink.

“If there was an expat wife out there with the right skills, this would be perfect”.

What this usually translates to is this is a job that pays less, offers no chance of promotion, and requires exceptional analytical skills.

I realized that I’d helped perpetuate this problem. I thought of all the times I’d sat with friends while we talked about returning to the workforce or starting a business. How many fantastically entrepreneurial girlfriends had I watched set up thriving businesses only to describe it as “something I do on the side” or “something to keep me busy.” We were our own worst enemy.

It’s not extra money. It’s not every little bit helps. It’s not my way of contributing.

It’s my income, my salary, my market value.

Don’t devalue yourself.

It’s not grocery money.

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