Women expatriates have to be resilient and resourceful if they wish to be successful in foreign cultures. Men in all cultures are expected to seek gainful employment. Women in all cultures face resistance by some men when they try to advance their careers. This is often the case with management careers. The fact that senior women managers are few in number and complain of glass ceilings has been much discussed by researchers. It is stressed here that women expatriates have to be more skilled at adjusting to a foreign culture than their male counterparts.
A US woman working in Bahrain will find many Bahrainis looking askance at her, since home making is not her first priority. Ellen Moore was often greeted with sympathy when she revealed that she had no children (Ellement, Maznevski and Lane, 1990). Most married Bahrainis like to have children, and at least one son. Hence most Bahraini women regard their careers as subordinate to their roles as mothers. A woman like Ellen Moore trying to befriend local Bahrainis finds that she is often asked questions about her life choices, and even treated as a woman who has made inappropriate life choices. A man in Ellen Moore's position might invite the admiration of local nationals. Ellen Moore, on the other hand, is received with mixed reactions . Some Bahrainis might advise her that she is in some way 'incomplete' because she has no children. Women expatriates have to respond to such situations in ways that reflect their own individuality .
One response is to maintain strictly formal relations with local nationals. Then a woman does not have to justify her life decisions. This can be onerous when done on a continuous basis. Women who opt for such a response can end up feeling lonely . Another response is to challenge the interlocutor's views on a woman's role in society. Such a stance may convey the impression that the woman expatriate is discourteous. A third response is for the woman expatriate to take people's curiosity , even disapproval, in her stride. Assuming a liberal position regarding the way people react to her would reflect maturity on the woman expatriate's part.
There are many cases of expatriates who succeeded in one foreign location, but then proceeded to fail in another. In a piece entitled 'The case of the floundering expatriate' (Adler, 1995), the novelist Gordon Adler, who lives in Switzerland, describes the unfortunate experience of a US manager who failed as an expatriate in Switzerland. This man, called Bert Donaldson in Adler's piece, had been deputed to Argos Europe from the United States headquarters because among other things he was viewed as a seasoned expatriate, having been Professor of American Studies in Cairo for five years .
In Cairo, Donaldson had behaved as the quintessential US academician. That was what had been expected of him as a Professor of American Studies. His students wanted to learn about US culture from him and through him. At Argos Europe, his mandate was to mesh together a cohesive team from managers of all the disparate European companies Argos had recently acquired .
What Donaldson failed to do in this assignment was to view the situation from a European perspective. Instead, he behaved as though being completely American (the way he had been in Cairo) was the way to go. For his Cairo assignment, Donaldson had been found to be charismatic. When he was trying to execute his European assignment, his charisma was viewed as abrasive. Though he was working in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, he made no effort to learn German. On the whole he conveyed the impression that he was not trying to fit in by making cultural adjustments. The European managers were thus not won over, so they were less than willing to accept him as a person who could bring them together as a cohesive team.
Much of the content of Donaldson's assignment in Europe was comparable with his earlier assignment in Cairo. Both required him to conduct educational sessions. However, in Europe, his 'students', who were practising managers comparable to him in status and work experience, complained that Donaldson tended to provide too much information and 'over-explain'. He gave the impression of condescension. This also signified that he did not know how to teach Europeans, by addressing them in class at the appropriate level of difficulty.
As the boxed case study illustrates, many problems can arise on account of the inappropriate attitudes, behaviour and skills of expatriates. An erroneous position expatriates can adopt is to assume that they are always right, and that problems arise because the local culture is not sufficiently enlightened. In other words, using the parlance of transactional analysts, they think, 'I am OK, you are not OK.' Other problems expatriates can create include:
using management practices developed in one culture in another culture, without ascertaining whether those practices would find acceptance;
being overly friendly or overly distant ;
not adapting to the social patterns of the company in the new culture.
If it is customary for managers to congregate together over a leisurely lunch , expatriates might indicate their desire to be part of the group by adopting that custom. An expatriate interviewed for this book recounted the mistake he made when he joined a subsidiary in Spain. He found Spanish managers taking an hour 's lunch at 1 pm. An American, he was accustomed to having a sandwich at his desk for lunch, and continued to do so. He was proud of using even his lunchtime for company work. He was subsequently astonished to find that whenever he went to a Spanish colleague's office to discuss professional matters, the colleague would politely convey that he was busy at that moment. Fortunately he was advised that the Spaniards used their lunchtime to network with colleagues and establish rapport, so subsequent professional interactions are facilitated. Since the US manager did not have the time to establish congenial work relations at lunchtime, the Spaniards did not have time for him when he went to see them in their offices. It was not a straightforward case of tit-for-tat. The Spaniards genuinely did not have time for the small talk that the expatriate wanted to engage in before getting down to business.
A problem that expatriates often face is readjustment to their own culture once they are repatriated. Expatriates can feel that they are looking at their culture through new eyes when they return home. They may see how certain things in their own country could be done in a different way, since they have actually seen those things being done differently in another culture.
Several organizational implications arise from expatriates returning home to work. First, they will be able to identify areas that can be improved in their home branch. They should make recommendations in a way that is acceptable in their culture. Second, they should have acquired the ability to step out of a situation and view it from many angles. An expatriate interviewed for this book, a Spaniard who returned to Spain after spending some time in the United States, described himself as having become more reflective on his return.
Clemence Lovie (2001), an MBA student at a top-rated European business school in 2001, commented that she felt 'foreign in her own country'. She had returned to her country France a couple of years earlier, after a lapse of 14 years. She found it difficult to adjust to the French way of doing things because although she was French, she had changed. She was flabbergasted to find that the French kept whining and complaining about everything; as flabbergasted as a foreigner would have felt. Most of her compatriots were not only ignorant about other cultures, but also inclined to think that the French culture was the only one worth knowing about. Since she had seen other cultures, she found herself being quite judgmental about France. She found it difficult to be objective and detached about the French as a true foreigner could. At the same time, she was conscious of being French and took pride in being the national of what she patriotically believed to be a great country.
She finally resolved her dilemma in a novel way. She left France to live in Spain. She preferred to live as a foreigner in another country, than be a foreigner in her own country.