Getting Inclusive About Global Mobility
One of those lies we tell children growing up to be civil engineers is that the career is an international one. Of course, it’s not a complete fiction- I do know a few engineers who have left the rule of Britannia and set out to ply their trade; however it’s not all that typical for engineering companies to deploy graduates across the world in the way that the likes of professional services firms do.
In being expected to produce a safe and tolerant environment across the globe, businesses are asked to solve the problems that society hasn’t fixed yet.
And that’s a bit of a shame; because engineering is trying to compete in an ever shrinking talent pool (don’t worry- I’ve got a post or two up my sleeve about how we desperately need to improve our lot…) and it’s an apparent fact that international working is a real draw, especially for younger people considering a career.
A few weeks ago I was deployed to an evening panel discussion on Global Mobility and the challenges it poses. The event shared some good lessons learnt both for the companies looking to improve the international prospects of their employees; and for the employees themselves. You see- like most things- the companies that get the best out of the people they send abroad are the ones that have stopped to think for a minute about how best to do it.
First off, you have to answer the question “why work abroad“. From a company perspective it could simply be that you have the skills/experience to deliver something that their current resources in that country cannot. But on a personal level employees tend to want to go for the experience; and the opportunity to gain a little resilience, develop and learn a bit more about themselves.
Companies should always offer; the worse thing you can do is put line managers in a judgement role, where their own unconscious biases and assumptions could easily prevent an apt employee missing out on the opportunity they’ve been waiting for.
The subtext, however, is (for a career like engineering) working abroad should be a way to augment your career; and not something that should disadvantage you if you don’t/can’t take the chance- you’re not working for the FCO, after all. This is especially important as, without policy intervention, globe-trotting your career typically favours the young men of this world- who are less likely to have any financial obligations or face any cultural resistance in the workplace.
Despite saying that, however, the first step companies need to take to better enable global mobility is to ignore this. Companies should always offer; the worse thing you can do is put line managers in a judgement role, where their own unconscious biases and assumptions could easily prevent an apt employee missing out on the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. And by extension- international travels are just as possible with a mortgage and a young family; so don’t count yourself out either.
While just opening the offer is a great start; all it does is include the people who think they know how to solve their mobility hurdles themselves. It is the next step that is difficult for a company to get right; if you want to be able to send the best, and get the best out of those you send- you need to start offering support.
Previously this used to be done with a standardised “package”, however often this was exclusive in-of-itself a farther of four is going to have a completely different set of requirements to a woman heading to work in Saudi. These days best practice is tending towards a piecemeal system to ensure a fair, but flexible, deal. And more importantly, one that doesn’t influence the decision of who to send; pick the right person- not the right price.
Aside from the “getting the best” argument; companies offer support because they ultimately have a duty of care. And this can lead to the greatest challenge for both parties- in being expected to produce a safe and tolerant environment across the globe, businesses are asked to solve the problems that society hasn’t fixed yet. How do you deploy a mixed-race couple to the multitudes of places still out there where the subject is taboo or defend lesbian employees to the eight or so countries where the government and even some of your own employees are against you?
But these are the problems that the global workforce has to solve. For businesses it is a question of risk mitigation and making sure they can provide a framework to ensure they get the best person, not just the most convenient one, for the job. For employees:
It’s about deciding if you want to go and then looking into the support you need and helping your employer get the best out of you.