When Men Are the Accompanying Partner

More and more companies seeking mobile talent identify skills that many women employees offer, including the ability to adapt. As a result, the number of men accompanying women on international assignment is on the rise.

Knowing how critical family adjustment is to a successful assignment, many companies offer spousal support as part of the relocation package. But men who accompany women often find this support inadequate or misplaced. Their needs differ from female accompanying partners. Dr. Nina D Cole of Ryerson University in Canada surveyed a group of male expat partners*, with some interesting findings.

First, most men felt completely comfortable in a relationship where their wives were the breadwinners. However, interactions with local people who felt uncomfortable with the men’s roles were often difficult or unsatisfactory. The isolation that can ensue when meeting locals – or even other expats and diplomats – leaves one feeling misunderstood or dismissed.

Second, the expat clubs and coffee groups women typically embrace in a new location are not geared toward men, who can feel excluded and adrift. While many women enjoy gathering to talk, many men enjoy each other’s company while doing some activity or sport. Connecting with other men in the same position is very difficult in some locales.

Third, the men found it very difficult to obtain worthwhile employment. Despite being supportive and appreciative of their wives’ jobs, most men were accustomed to a dual-career partnership and still desired the opportunity for financial contribution and personal fulfilment. Assuming that visa regulations allow for work, common obstacles like language barrier and foreign qualifications were exacerbated by the lack of a local network.

Other accompanying men’s journals, blogs, and interviews bear out similar themes.

The first point may be slowly alleviated as perceptions about gender roles evolve. These perceptions already vary by country, with some embracing more professional equality than others.

The second and third points may be addressed by the woman’s employer. Connecting an accompanying man to his peers can mean simply providing a list of men’s clubs or sports groups, or arranging a meet-and-greet with other spouses or colleagues. One of the best known men’s group is STUDS  in Belgium (Spouses Trailing Under Duress Successfully), whose major interest areas — according to its website — are ‘sports, history, new technologies, literature, travel, exploring Belgium and environs and more, including a fairly active golf group.‘

Another such group is in Singapore, called Secret Men’s Business, which is revealed to be occasional lunch, beers, and golf. Groups like these are especially useful in hardship locations where it is more difficult to orient oneself and more important to do so quickly.

Even when a social group is found, men without desired employment can adjust less well to the new location. Employers who can introduce job contacts or entry to a professional network can help in this regard. Men in Dr. Cole’s study were not looking for direct employment from their wives’ employers, but rather to be assisted in building their own local network to bolster their job search.

According to Permits Foundation, 83% of women indicated that their partner’s career and employment prospects are important factors in assignment acceptance. When a man’s career interruption leads to family tension, financial stress, and/or depression, it is clear that male spousal support is vital to a woman’s opportunity for success. It can also reduce assignment refusal.

Of course, couples of various types are going on international assignments, adding complexity in some cases and locations. This requires companies to regularly review their relocation policies and packages, ensuring that spouse and partner support is effective and useful.

Cole, Nina D. (2012). Expatriate accompanying partners: the males speak. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 50, pp. 308-326.

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS – Product Manager, Content Group