A recent Financial Times article "Women still hesitate to accept foreign assignments: Travelling spouses are rarely men" states that "Women’s earnings and potential salaries are so rarely equal to men’s that we still see the “travelling” male partner as unusual". This was certainly Carolina Dantas' experience.
Carolina writes the following story as our guest, about her experience in pursuing a career opportunity that offered the opportunity to live abroad, where husband was the 'trailing spouse':
When I announced to my colleagues that I accepted an offer in the company for a long-term assignment overseas, the first question everybody asked me was “what about your husband? Is he quitting his job?” With my clear “yes, he is coming with me”, the following reaction was “oh… he must love you so much”.
I have no doubt about my husband’s feelings, but my colleagues’ reaction still intrigues me. People knew I was ambitious, I was working very hard to progress in my career and I was doing well. With the exposure I was having to global leaders, an opportunity abroad should be the natural next step. So why was my husband the first thing to come to people's mind?
Frankly, he was my first concern also. By the time I got the offer, he was earning about 30% more than I was. His career was progressing well too. People did not know, but I had declined other offers previously because the place would not offer much to him personally or professionally. However, this time we were talking about London! Still he would be pausing his career dreams to follow mine. He would become the dependent spouse in a foreign place. He would not get a visa on his own. His work permit would depend on the company I worked for.
I did not want to carry the lift of compromising his career either. I did not want to hear the classic “I gave up on everything for you” in any moment of stress that every relationship goes through. So I called my dad. In a sexist society like the Brazilian one, he would give the male perspective I could miss and still be on my side. Here is his precious advice: “it’s his decision, not yours”. For a feminist like me, it hit me first, but he continued: “You have no decision to make. The company is offering you a promotion, a great raise, a complete expat program in an excellent location. It is everything you obviously want. Therefore, you have no decision to make. He is the one to decide if he wants this new life”.
Sheryl Sandberg said that the best career decision you make is about the person you marry. This was so true in that moment. To be a senior executive with a global career, I needed a husband that shared my lifestyle and dreams. And he did. Gladly. Living abroad was his dream too and there was no other better opportunity to go.
We set a time and a plan for this break in his career. He got an international certification, did some consultant work, played a lot of tennis and made more friends than I did. It was not easy for him in many occasions, but we both took the most of this great opportunity. In the end, we decided to have a baby and to have him back in Brazil, closer to our families. It took him 8 months to get a new job, but he got a great one - even though Brazil was in the middle of a terrible recession.
Now I am the person in home full-time. During the uncertainties of not being a working-partner and not having my career identity, my husband said to me “my career is our problem as much as your career is our problem too”. I believe this is the real meaning of dual career.
Carolina is an international executive, former global director in Nielsen, mother of 2 kids and was the first female Brazilian to take an international assignment.