How Women Make a Difference

If you want a better-run business, put a woman in the boardroom.  Greater gender diversity helps corporate boards to function better, and all it takes is one woman to make a difference.  New studies show that the presence of female board members has a positive impact in a variety of areas, and that much of the corporate world is starting to notice.

Women are key assets on corporate boards.  They focus on details, and push fellow board members to do the same.  They speak up about their feelings, based on extensive experience.  Some women ask questions men wouldn’t think to ask.  They provide views and insights on a larger marketplace, which might be invisible to a homogeneous board.

Female board membership is prominent in North America.  Sixty percent of Canadian Financial Post 500 companies had women board directors in both 2011 and 2013.  Ninety percent of U.S. Fortune 500 companies had women on their boards in 2012 and 2013.

A government-appointed task force in the U.K. set a target of 25% women directors in leading company boardrooms by 2015.  As a result,
U.K. companies are focusing on the right mix of talent around the boardroom table, and corporate boards have seen a dramatic change over the past three years.

Women now account for 20.7% of directors on the boards of FTSE 100 companies.  In 2011, that number was just 12.5%.  A recent report found that only two of the FTSE 100 companies had all-male boards, compared to one-fifth in 2011.  Several EU member countries have even established legislation around hiring quotas for women.  Focusing on the vast talent pool of qualified women will help these companies and countries reach their diversity goals.

Women in Asia are making strides as well, but not as quickly as North America or Europe.  In Asia, female corporate board presence is on the rise, but at a slower rate.  China, Malaysia and Hong Kong have Asia’s highest female participation rates.  They also take the top spots for the highest proportions of female leaders in junior, middle and senior management.

India, by contrast, has one of the lowest female leadership rates in Asia at 29%.  Only 9% of those women are in senior corporate leadership roles.  As is true to varying degrees throughout the world, the female talent pipeline slows down due to a variety of factors.  For example, women are expected to take care of their elderly partents.  With this social tug of war between caring for children and parents, and climbing the career ladder, high-potential businesswomen in India are concerned about these personal sacrifices.

Recognizing that high female participation rates are vital to company growth and productivity gains, how is equality being promoted?  Some companies in Asia have made cultivation of female talent a priority.  Essar Group, an Indian multinational infrastructure, telecoms, mining and energy conglomerate, employees over 75,000 in more than 25 counties.  Relying on highly qualified talent in technical and engineering disciplines, their biggest challenge is to keep women long enough to grow to senior roles.

Firmly believing that women can lead, the company works hard to attract and retain female employees.  Essar Group supports female employee professional development, prioritizes continued dialogue between men and women, and provides an environment where women are encouraged to take their professional and personal goals seriously.

Organizations all around the world need support and resources to successfully deal with these issues.  HR and Learning and Development professionals play important roles by creating a culture that encourages women to progress in their career paths, and provides support and growth to ensure their retention.  Women’s involvement at all levels of management will continue to make a huge impact on corporate growth, making it a win-win for everyone.

Are you happy?

According to a new report from Gallup, Latin Americans are the winners when it comes to having positive emotions.  Approximately 1,000 residents were polled in each of 138 countries.  At the top is Paraguay, followed by Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Colombia.  The only top 10 country located outside the Americas is Denmark.

The Gallup poll measured positive elements such as smiling or laughing, being treated with respect, experiencing enjoyment, feeling well-rested, and learning or doing something interesting daily.

Who came in at the bottom of the list?  The lowest percentage of residents experiencing positive emotions was in Syria.  In the same group were Chad, Lithuania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Nepal and Belarus. According to the results, only about one-third of Syrians reported those positive criteria above.

In a different study by the Legatum Institute, happiness is ranked by using a combination of economic indicators with measurements of well-being and life satisfaction.  Their results are taken from 142 countries covering 96% of the world population and 99% of global GDP. The Institute aims to help people live more prosperous lives.

The Legatum Institute study ranks countries based on peace, freedom, good healthcare, quality education, a functioning political system and opportunity.  They found the top four happiest countries to be Norway, Sweden, Canada, and New Zealand.  Countries where freedom of expression is limited, had a poor educational system, and experienced violence were found to be the saddest counties.  Those countries were Chad, Congo, Central African Republic, Afghanistan and Yemen.

While these happiness studies used different criteria to measure happiness, it’s clear that friends and family, political freedom, economic opportunity, and quality education and healthcare all play important roles in positive emotions and feeling secure, anywhere in the world.

How to settle in your new country

Your spouse or partner is offered the chance of a lifetime: an expenses-paid job transfer abroad, with all the possibilities and excitement of a fresh start in a fascinating new place. You’ll be able to explore, immerse yourself in a new culture, entertain envious friends who will flock to your exotic new location for a foreign vacation from a ‘local’s’ perspective.

In reality, being one part of a couple moving abroad can be a lot less glamorous than it may first seem. It can be frustrating, alienating and downright lonely. After all, there are so many things to plan before you go, include international health insurance, accommodation, schooling and the relocation process as a whole. If moving house is one of the most stressful things in life, what will moving country be like?

If you’re leaving behind a career or have a training or a degree, it might seem logical to seek work to normalize your new life. This can be a great way to settle in and find your place in your new country, but it can be easier said than done. More on this later.

Any expat will tell you the most important thing to do when you move is to get involved, whether it’s through volunteering, meeting people who share things in common (kids, hobbies, sports) or just meeting your neighbors. This might be difficult in a large city, especially if you don’t speak the language, but people will respect you if you make the effort, and generally will reciprocate.

Assuming you’re childless, don’t speak the local language and are likely to be left to your own devices while your other half is at work, where do you start?

Before you move ask everyone you know, including your employer, colleagues or your spouse’s work, if they can put you in touch with any groups or individuals who are located – or have lived previously – where you’re headed. Make an effort to follow up on these contacts, because at your most confused or lonely moments it will be a comfort to be able to talk to someone who has been through the same experience. Their tips will be invaluable and may save you making common mistakes.

In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rudolph Young said, “Learning a new culture can’t be done on the Internet: It comes with in-person practice.”

This is well worth remembering, as are a few other tips. Keep an open mind. Try not to judge your expat experience against what you’re used to. Get out there and make the most of it because even if you can’t wait to return home, your time abroad will teach you important lessons such as resilience, versatility and an expanded worldview.

Most major cities will have networks for expats, which can range from the niche (“Petroleum Women’s Club of Scotland”) to welcoming organizations for university alumni, members of certain religious groups or political alliances. Perhaps you wouldn’t have sought out your local Democrat, GOP or Green Party club at home, but it might be a place to start in your new location – not least because the members will have advice on pedestrian matters such as filing taxes.

For many husbands and wives who are following their spouse’s career at the expense of their own, the expatriate life can create unexpected pressure points. Finding your feet in a new country is difficult if you’ve left behind work you enjoyed, or that at least gave you purpose. Depending on how long you plan to stay in your adopted country you may seek work, but prepare yourself for it to be tough – really tough.

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Most countries have a requirement, even if it’s unofficial, to give preference to native job-seekers. You’ll be in a better position if you possess specialist knowledge, experience or training that is sought after, such as advanced IT skills, but even in those circumstances you’ll need to seek the requisite visas or work permits.

Then it’s a matter of working out where to look – websites, recruiters or job centers, networking events – and how to approach potential employers. It’s important to have an understanding of the sometimes-subtle cultural nuances that mean the difference between landing a job and being effectively blacklisted. Everything from whether to shake hands, how to address employers of the opposite sex and other body language clues will be as important as appreciating that the job you left behind might be very different from one you end up doing in a foreign country.

Companies with long-established foreign operations are likely to have support and advice for the families who are along for the adventure, so look into what your spouse’s employer can offer. Is there any chance of work there? Can they suggest how you might go about settling in and seeking to further your education or practice your skills as an expat?

Personal resourcefulness can’t be overstated, either. Can you turn your experience into a freelance career as a writer, photographer, translator, language tutor, travel planner or some other area of self-employment? Do you have skills, such as accountancy or website design, that you could offer as a consultant? Could you start a blog or promote yourself on LinkedIn?

Finally, don’t underestimate the value of patience. It’s incredibly stressful to move house, let alone to move to another country and start from scratch, no matter how invested you are in the idea.

A New Zealander who relocated to London shared her experience with the website Expatwomen.com. Maria M. said, “Accept that there is going to be an adjustment period and then (sic) may mean you have to ‘tough it out’ for a while, to give the move a chance. It took us a year before we felt like we were settled in.”

But most of all, have fun. Enjoy the experience – you may never have this opportunity again.

Emily Buchanan is a writer and editor from the UK. She writes about the expat lifestyle for Escape Artists, Emirates 24/7 and the Huffington Post. For regular updates and chatter, follow her on Twitter: @mileychanbuna

Living Abroad released four new U.S. destinations

Living Abroad is excited to announce the release of four new U.S. destination reports:

– Albuquerque, New Mexico
– Boulder, Colorado
– Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
– Phoenix, Arizona

These four fascinating cities have much to offer those who relocate to them. For example, all are hosting festivals the first week in June!

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Albuquerque:
Albuquerque Film and Media Experience

The AFME is a week-long extravaganza, filled with screenings, contests, concerts, conversations with industry experts, and much more.

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Boulder:
Boulder Bach Festival

For over thirty years, Boulder music lovers have celebrated the life of classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach with chamber concerts, choral performances, and outreach programs to welcome new enthusiasts, young and old.

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Oklahoma City:
Red Earth Festival

This renowned celebration of Native American culture begins with what has been described as “America’s most unique parade.” Along with bands, floats, and community organizations of all kinds, the procession features hundreds of participants dressed in colorful and authentic Native American regalia.

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Phoenix:
Phoenix Comicon

This convention invites participants to “celebrate your inner geek.” Guests and exhibitors include well-known pop culture luminaries from television, film, comics, books, and music, and there is a costume contest for adventurous attendees.

If you would like to subscribe to one of our destinations, please contact us at 3la@livingabroad.com.

Are you a music lover?

April to May is a beautiful time of year in many parts of the world. It also means a treat for music fans: Eurovision!

The Eurovision Song Contest was launched by the European Broadcasting Union in 1956, in an effort to bring unified entertainment to the entire continent. Seven countries participated in the first Eurovision, sending their best performers and songs to Lugano, Switzerland. This year, thirty-six countries from around the world have signed on, so far.

Eurovision is usually held in the country of the previous year’s winner. This year, the Grand Final will take place in Copenhagen, Denmark. However, Eurovision can be enjoyed throughout the world. Participating countries must broadcast Eurovision on television locally, and the official website has offered access to all performances since 2000.

Each participant country submits one song, performed by a musical group. The song must include vocals, and can be performed in any language. Voting throughout the competition is on a point system. Viewers in each of the participating countries are encouraged to vote for their favorite performances via telephone or SMS. A jury of music professionals in each country is also part of the process.

Eurovision has produced winners who became global music superstars, including ABBA, Celine Dion, and Secret Garden. Others have captured the prize, yet faded into obscurity. Only time will tell what becomes of 2014’s winner!

Where are you planted?

A bit of advice frequently given to assignees moving abroad is to “bloom where you’re planted.”  With much of the Northern Hemisphere experiencing an extremely cold, snowy winter, it is easy to feel more like hibernating than blooming.

But spring is coming! And just to urge it along, witness one of the beautiful flower and garden shows around the world:

Philadelphia Flower Show, March 1-9, is the world’s oldest and largest indoor flower show.  First held in 1829, today the show is held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and takes up 33 indoor acres with garden exhibits and glorious flower displays.

Hong Kong Flower Show, March 7-16, is held at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. This year’s theme is the Kalanchoe, a tropical succulent flowering plant. Displays of floral arrangements, landscape designs, and horticultural items for sale are just a few features of this colorful, fragrant show.

Keukenhof Gardens, March 20-May 18, is a 32-hectacre park with 15 km of footpaths, located about 35 minutes from Amsterdam. During the flower show, the gardens are filled with blooming tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, and other spring bulbs. Sail around Keukenhof in a ‘whisper boat’ or join in one of the many weekend activities.

Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show, March 26-30, is Australia’s largest flower and garden show, featuring floral design workshops, sculpture garden, a retail market, and the Great Hall of Flowers in the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens.

Chelsea Flower Show, May 20-24, has been held on the grounds of London’s Chelsea Hospital for 101 years. Britain’s most prestigious flower show dazzles visitors – including the Royal family – with Show Gardens, Artisan Gardens, and Fresh Gardens, each its own category.

There are many more wonderful flower and garden shows around the world. These are only a few!

So wherever you find your inspiration – from Mother Nature or elsewhere – here’s to turning over a new leaf in March, and springing forward into a new season.

Free online language learning resources

Would you like to turn the time you spend on games like Angry Birds or QuizUp into mastery of a new language? Here are three free online language learning resources that are as just as much fun as they are educational.

Duolingo:
Formats: Web, iPhone, Android
Learn: English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian
Duolingo is often hailed as the very best free language learning app, and with good reason. You can progress through engaging reading, writing, and speaking lessons, while opening skill trees and accumulating points. Duolingo monitors your  performance closely, and adjusts your lesson content. There are also many opportunities, at all ability levels, to practice translate writing from elsewhere on the Internet. Users can also connect with each other within Duolingo, making it an excellent choice for friends and family with similar language learning goals.

BBC Languages:
Format: Web
Learn: 40 languages
BBC Languages offers such a wide range of learning resources that there is something for everyone. Users can evaluate which language is most appropriate for them to learn, and assess their current proficiency. Audio and video lessons are available, as are games and tests. BBC Languages also provides additional resource links, and the opportunity for learners to connect via Facebook.

Cat Academy:
Format: iPhone, Android coming soon
Learn: Spanish, more coming soon
Billing itself as “helping humans to be less dumb,” Cat Academy is the perfect choice for feline fans looking to polish their conversational Spanish. Key phrases are paired with cat photos that are adorable, funny, or both. Meanwhile, adaptive testing works behind the scenes to keep your learning at its optimum pace.

Are you watching?

The Olympics are so riveting for spectators.  You can’t deny getting sweaty palms as you watch the men’s speed skating or cheer on an athlete who is striving for the gold!  We identify so strongly with our country when one of our athletes earns a medal.  It’s like we personally won.

The Olympic host country has an opportunity to show the world their unique culture and put their best foot forward.  Russia is no exception. With a great deal of pride in their country, Russians started planning a Cultural Olympiad in 2010.  The Cultural Olympiad is a cultural project started by the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee.  Since 2010, each year has a cultural theme:  2010 was the Year of the Cinema, 2011 the Year of the Theater, 2012 the Year of Music, and 2013 is the Year of the Museum.  Over a million people attended the Cultural Olympiad in 2012!

The goal is to bring together in Sochi the best cultural programs in the country. Out of the thousands of programs to choose from, the very best are on display.  Visitors to the Olympic host city can not only view the Olympic Games, but also may attend the chosen cultural events at locations in Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana.

For a view of what’s offered at the Cultural Olympiad, go to www.culture.sochi2014.com.

Greeting the new year with resolve… and celebration!

Do you ever wonder what would happen if everyone kept their New Year’s resolutions? If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say there would be 23 million pounds of collective weight loss, 536,201 people learning new languages, 760,000 more hours spent with our families, 5 million fewer smokers, 60,000 more hours of volunteer work performed, and 31,746 educational degrees finally completed.

Since we are only human, and resolutions are notoriously difficult to keep, it’s no surprise that many resolutions get repeated – rolled over, if you will – from year to year. If you didn’t stick with it last year, you have a fresh, new chance for this year. How wonderful is that?

For a list of popular New Year’s resolutions around the U.S. – and links to help you achieve them – click here.

And did you ever wonder how it all got started, or whether the practice is observed around the world?

Four thousand years ago, Babylonians marked the start of a ‘new year’ around the vernal equinox.  For 11 days, various rituals were observed during Akitu, a religious festival whose name comes from the word for barley.

All this was before the Gregorian calendar, or even before the Julian calendar, which Julius Caesar established when the early Roman calendar fell out of alignment with the sun’s seasons. Caesar marked the beginning of the year on January 1, with a nod to Janus, the Roman god of beginnings.

Today, the celebrations begin on December 31, so that revelers are awake to mark the transition to a new year. How this is marked varies around the world, but typically involves food and drink – sometimes specific food and drink thought to bring good luck for the year ahead.  Some of these include grapes in Spain, lentils in Italy, pork in Hungary, circular baked goods in the Netherlands, and rice pudding with a hidden almond in Sweden.

Fireworks, songs, and general merriment are the norm among crowds that gather to usher in the New Year. In New York, a million people assemble at the “Crossroads of the World” to watch a ball made of more than 2600 Waterford crystal triangles descend from a spire atop One Time’s Square at midnight. Millions more watch this 106-year-old tradition on television. Several other cities stage similar – albeit smaller – events.

Of course, not everyone’s New Year celebrations occur on January 1. The Chinese New Year, based on the lunar calendar, falls on January 31 in 2014. Many of the traditions of the Chinese New Year come under the heading of “fresh start.” Houses are cleaned, old items replaced with new (especially clothes), debts are paid, respects are offered to the Kitchen God, ancestors are revered, and families are reunited. It is a time to consult the feng shui master and to court good fortune for the year ahead with auspicious words and actions.

In addition to China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia are some of the other countries with Chinese New Year celebrations.

Each Chinese year is represented by a different animal on a 12-year cycle. If the New Year animal is the same as that of your birth year, you are especially fortunate. In 2014, revelers will welcome the Year of the Horse.  Characteristics associated with the horse are determination, endurance, vitality, spirit, warmth, intelligence, and ability.

Those sound like traits many of us would aspire to… Maybe we’re not done with our resolution lists after all!

Wishing you a strong resolve to keep those resolutions!

Is language a barrier for children?

Excerpts from “Raising Successful Bilingual Children”
by Susan Stewart, Head of Mother Tongue, International School of London, Surrey campus

Is your child bilingual…or trilingual? Have you lived in a number of different countries?  Do you know where you might be living in 10 years’ time?   Is your child mixing English and your home language? Does your child refuse to speak in your home language?  Are you worried about the effect this might have on them?

These are common questions for expats and multilingual families. Most parents struggling with the day-to-day issues of raising a multi-lingual child are unlikely to ask where they want their child to be in the future, yet this is precisely the starting point for most decisions about raising successful bilingual children.

Before looking at a few guidelines, however, there are some fundamentals in speaking and learning about languages which should be outlined.  First, there are two ways to learn languages:  through acquisition, the unconscious way we all learn languages as children; and through learning, the conscious and structured approach taken in learning a language other than your home language.  An acquired language is never forgotten.  A child who has acquired two languages – learnt one at home and another at school – is well on the way towards becoming a balanced bilingual, a child equally comfortable in both languages, socially, academically and, in the future, professionally.

There are many advantages to being bilingual, both professionally and socially.  There are cognitive benefits as well.  Current brain research shows that children learning two languages show more neural activity in the parts of the brain associated with language processing.  But raising a bilingual child is not always easy in families where the parents may speak different languages, or playmates may speak a different language from the home language.   Nonetheless, for parents who want their children to be balanced bilinguals, there are some basic guidelines to follow:

1.    Speak to your child in your language.
2.    Take your child back to your home country as often as possible.
3.    Have books, movies, magazines and games in your home language at home.
4.    Be proud of your language – your child will share in this.
5.    Be patient.  It takes time.

There are also a few “Don’ts” – pitfalls to avoid so as not to compromise your child’s progress.

For these, and to read the complete article, click here.