There were 65 expat women in a room

There were 65 women in the room. Women of all different nationalities, skin colour and religion. It was an after-hours event, organized specifically for the networking purposes of international professional women.

Before it was my turn to speak to the group I asked two questions of the crowd.

“How many of you initially moved to Qatar because of your own career or business?”

Three women raised their hands.

There was an audible sigh.

“Okay, so how many of you moved to Qatar for your partner’s career or business?”

Pretty much the entire audience.

This was last week, not last decade, or century, last week.

When I arrived home later that night my husband asked how it all went. I shared some of the information I’d learned, they’d been some great speakers. I also talked about the women I’d met, and then out of no-where I found myself a little bit teary “you know, nothing’s changed, seventeen years of hanging out with expat women and nothing’s changed. I continue to stand with other women talking about the challenge of mobile careers, the majority still reliant on their husband’s visa or contract for them to work”.

I kept thinking about the numbers. Three women. How could that be right?

I was missing something major though. My argument was flawed.

I only have look at my own social circle to think about the younger women I know who are running businesses, heading up organizations and leading their divisions. Recent stats from Internations (an organization designed to connect expats) suggests that “almost half of the women who currently live abroad (46 percent) mentioned their job or business as a reason for expatriating. This share is still lower than among their male counterparts, of which seven out of ten (71 percent) say the same. Nonetheless, it is the factor most often given by expat women, followed by 33 percent who moved for their partner and 26 percent who were looking for an adventure.”

So where’s the disparity? Why were there only three women in the room?

Internations has a lot of younger members, I’ve only been along to a couple of events but those events have had a leaning towards singles. So I’m guessing their stats come from their tribe.

When I think about my single childless girlfriends every woman I know, and I mean EVERY single woman I know is working, and she’s working well, she’s a professional and kicking some serious corporate butt. When it comes to my fellow mother friends, those statistics tell a completely different story.

But why should I care? I mean big deal. Why should I care if you choose to work or not? What does it mean if you moved because of your partner’s profession rather than your own?

This is why it matters, it matters because often when you choose to move with your partner a number of other choices may follow:

  • you choose to try your luck at finding a job when you get there
  • you choose to be dependant on someone elses visa
  • you choose to be happy with your partner’s company’s requirements on housing, schooling and location
  • you choose to wait for news on if you’re moving because of the merger, the buyout, the change of head office because you’re not an employee, you’re just the partner of an employee.
  • And if you have children, you’ve most likely chosen to be the lead parent while your partner begins his/her new job. Sure, things will even out once they’re settled and you’ve had a chance to see what’s out there but you’ll be the one who’s making school lunches, doing the school drop off and volunteering 20 cupcakes for the science fair.

But yes things are changing.

In seventeen years I’ve seen more and more women move as the lead expat. And by lead expat I mean I’ve seen more women move country for their career while their partner has traveled as the lead parent.

But if I had to do my own head count, make my own statistics and count the numbers – if I was generous I’d say maybe a 10%.

Or maybe somewhere closer to 3 in a room of 65.

Happy International Womens Day my International friends xxx

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