Together with other inspiring women on the panel – Martina Koja (Language Teacher), Nora Szücs (Researcher and Lecturer Vienna University of Business and Economics), Victoria Williams (Vice President and General Manager GlaxoSmithKline), Amel Derragui (Business & Marketing Coach, Speaker, Founder of Tandem Nomads Tandem Nomads) – she had a lively discussion on the broad topic of career and expatriation and the role of the so called “trailing spouse”.
This inspiring evening and the questions she was asked, made her recap why it is so important to speak up for Dual Careers in Vienna/Austria….
(PWN Vienna) You have been an accompanying spouse for a long time and gained profound experience in terms of “survival skills for accompanying partners”. In Vienna, you founded the network VIE LESA (Vienna Local Expatriate Spouse Association). Please tell us more about your motivation founding this network….
Verena: I need to go back to my time in Montreal where I initiated and co-founded MTL LESA*. Back then in 2013, I was “revolutionizing” a traditional diplomatic coffee club together with a couple of like-minded spouses longing for something “beyond morning coffee”. We wanted to do more than “just” socialize, be more than “the other half” – and started looking into (dual) career options. After repatriating to Austria end of 2013 and feeling like an expat in my own country, I realized that Vienna/Austria also needs a LESA version. So I jumped into a program called “rocket science” (by the Vienna Chamber of Commerce) which was basically a pitch training/business accelerator and convinced Sandra Glück-Taglieber, one of my MTL LESA co-founders who is also Austrian but moved to Brussels/Belgium in the meantime, to come on board again. Rodica Stroe, another MTL LESA co-founder and believer in the concept of LESA, provided financial kick-off support. Long story short: Off we went with VIE LESA – two Austrians on- & offline, one repatriated and flex-pating to Paris on the week-end and the other one thriving as an expat mompreneur in Brussels/Belgium.
*The concept of LESA goes back to the vision of an UN initiative launched almost 20 years ago, the UN Dual Career & Staff Mobility Programme.
(PWN Vienna) Why should expat spouses be member in your network? What do they gain? How do you support them?
Verena: Before founding, we had long discussions which form/set up we should go for. At the end, we agreed we need this to be something from expat spouses, for expat spouses – so went for a “gemeinnütziger Verein” (a non-profit organisation). And we started building VIE LESA on two pillars. The first one being very practical hands-on – which is also reflected in our claim VIE LESA helps expat spouses to rebuild their life and career here in Vienna/Austria and which means building a network of experts, providing info needed, expert talks, organising monthly meetups. Our long-term vision is to create a one-stop shop for expat spouses in Vienna/Austria. We are very thankful for the great cooperation we have been able to establish with existing networks such as PWN Vienna but also e.g. Vienna Business Agency – Expat Center. Our second pillar is advocating for Dual Careers in Vienna/Austria. We have launched a campaign called VIE Speak Up where we also invite expat spouses to share what challenges they are facing. VIE LESA is also a lobby for ideas such as the concept of Portable Careers. Of course, even a non-profit organisation needs resources and whilst Sandra and I both have our “own” careers, we do dedicate a lot of time to VIE LESA. And rely on the moderate contributions – EUR 60 per year – to cover the costs of our non-profit. Click here to find out more on how you can join us.
(PWN Vienna) Are accompanying spouses pushed in a traditional role of taking care of family management?
Verena: Research shows the majority of expat spouses is still female. Expat life as such is complex – with all being new, a different country, a different language at times, culture – so that is a whole “job” in itself. And then there is the big “C” question and looking at „classic“ career options can be more than though – keeping in mind visa regulations, legal frameworks, recognition of education plus the factor limited time period which makes it even more difficult. So, the accompanying partner often end us with the “logical” choice of “being home” and there is nothing wrong with that, on the contrary, but it needs to be fine and your choice! And thanks to new technologies, times are changing and concepts like “portable careers” become new options for expat spouses and that is great. There is no one size fits all. We need to have options and be able to choose what suits us and our family best. And that is one of the reasons we found VIE LESA – to speak up and advocate for expat spouses, their rights and especially financial independency – if or the more so if they are taking care of the family “only”.
(PWN Vienna) What can be improved? How can female expatriates and accompanying partners can be better supported? How should companies and institutions support female expatriates and accompanying partners (female, male)?
Verena: One of the key elements for sure is to involve the accompanying partner and families as early as possible, starting already in the selection process. The decision needs to be taken with all parties involved – and ideally supported by an experienced expat (spouse) coach. Going abroad can be a truly enriching experience but also one that needs to be well planned. And the support should not stop after the decision is taken, ideally we would love to see on-site support for the accompanying partner, no matter what their career path is. A network. A buddy system. Coaches. The costs for spousal support are peanuts compared to the costs of a failed assignment. And not to forget about support during re-patriation, which can even be tougher….
(PWN Vienna) If an accompanying partner would like to continue a professional career how can he/she do it?
Verena: Again info is key – seeking information and expert advice on visa and legal regulations, recognition of education, market specifics…And also preparing yourself to think outside the box, especially if the “classic” career lane is not working out. Portable careers have become a very sustainable way for many accompanying partners to continue their career wherever you are/moving to.
(PWN Vienna) One personal statement as a recommendation for women who aim for an international career or who plan to accompany their partner – or did it.
Verena: Take yourself and your own career/purpose as important as your partners! Don’t be shy to ask for help – also and especially your husband’s company. And join a local network which supports you in what you want to be doing, no matter whether it is a mum and baby group (VFN) or already have your career (PWN) or start from scratch in Vienna (Vie LESA). We look forward to hearing from you – drop us a line to firstname.lastname@example.org