Towards an emergence of young female managers exposed to foreign cultures as part of a professional assignment abroad
More and more women are sent abroad for an internship or a project, to set up a recently acquired subsidiary, or for another professional assignment whose results will have a major impact on their future careers and will probably influence their life path.
Sometimes far from the familiar and reassuring setting of their native country, these early-career women are not always properly prepared when it comes to joining a multicultural team, maximising their resources for the benefit of a project and negotiating or speaking in public in a foreign setting often perceived as unstable or hostile.
Matching needs with support modes and processes
Supporting theses young women is especially important to help create a relationship of trust with their new environment, with their manager and/or team, and with foreign partners.
But these young women’s initial requirements are not necessarily about building trust.
Self-doubt, amplified by fears that they will not be able to achieve their objectives, can trigger an awakening in these young women (or their line managers), a need for support and clarification, with a coach.
Lack of knowledge of the new culture, coupled with an inaccurate perception of the role of women in the host country can often disrupt their established mindsets, and this can then become a source of anxiety, distress and fear.
Setting the foundation
The coach has to clarify the ethical rules and code of ethics of the coaching, since these concepts are not perceived in an identical way in all cultures. The same is true for a nuanced explanation of the support methods that can be used in this type of situation and the setting of clear boundaries.
Some sessions may include other coaching methods focused on:
- The transmission of information, equivalent to a training mode (explanations about the local culture, for example),
- Advice equivalent to a consultancy mode (analysing the individual’s managerial context, a focus on explaining a behavioural assessment or an individual’s cultural preferences, for example),
- An exclusively coaching mode, to offer the female coachee space for reflection and broadening her field of awareness in relation to her initial concerns associated with adapting to the new culture.
Where the overall objective of the support is defined with micro-objectives per type of support, the contract may then be concluded between the coach and the female coachee directly, but this will most commonly be done on a tripartite basis with the company that employs the coachee.
The language chosen is an important vehicle for creating a link with the coachee. If the coach adopts the language of the female coachee, he or she must be capable of appreciating the subtleties of the verbal and non-verbal language used by the coachee, which often have a cultural component beyond the linguistic.
It is also frequently the case that the support cannot take place in the language of the coachee, but takes place in English, for example, the company’s lingua franca, or the common language between the coach and the coachee.
establishing trust and intimacy
Creating intimacy in the coaching relationship requires genuine perceptiveness and empathy from the coachee's situation. The coach truly puts themselves in their client's shoes. Understanding, from their own experience, what the female coachee is going through - for example feelings of isolation - is often a powerful confidence-building tool for the female coachee.
Although the coach must avoid countertransference, sharing experience can, however, provide a reassuring new perspective for the female coachee if this sharing is offered at an appropriate time.
A young woman exposed to a difficult foreign professional context can feel destabilised and vulnerable when confronted with a challenge to the values conveyed in her original environment.
At her workplace or during negotiations, local staff do not appreciate her, or more or less openly display expectations that differ from what she imagined. These expectations can take the form of results to be achieved, a role to be played, behaviour to be adopted as a woman in the team, vis à vis her line manager.
If the company that has sent her does not enable her to benefit from a social fabric that encourages connections between expatriates, she finds herself left without the crucial access codes she needs to gain access to the local communities.
Coaching a woman in this context requires great readiness to listen, and an openness to a wide variety of emotional and cultural reactions... that might come as a surprise too!
Beyond cultural differences, these female coachees can nevertheless succeed in discovering a universality of meaning, but also find similarities with other women from other cultures and a whole new and different side to themselves.
Questioning is designed to be powerful because it should the heart of the woman, renewed.
The coach must constantly ensure that the exchange is fluid. They must ask clear questions, rephrasing their comments if necessary, to ensure full and complete understanding of the question and of the answer received in this multicultural context, especially when the coach and the client are both speaking in a language that is not their mother tongue.
An understanding of a foreign culture and multicultural communication facilitate the female coachee’s occupational integration abroad, while also challenging her. This support forms the gateway, the visible face of the iceberg, the breaking wave that upends received ideas and lays the foundations for adapting to others in a foreign work setting.
Creativity nurtures a woman-to-woman connection.
Within the coaching relationship, the young woman can revisit what she previously considered innately acquired, such as her values, beliefs, perception of her roles within society, her openness to change.
I also help the manager to plot her Cultural Map through a self-evaluation questionnaire.
The first part of the questionnaire analyses the executive’s overall open-mindedness to another culture.
The second part is more specific and covers the executive’s open-mindedness to change and risk-taking internationally, taking into account external and internal factors such as her preferences in terms of geographical location, language, climate, religions, diet, comfort, family.
The results of her questionnaire are plotted on a map that gives her an overall picture of what type of international executive she is in comparison with other profiles. This map helps her to better measure her openness to cultural change and the factors that may impact her adaptability in a foreign context.
Inventiveness, coordination, curiosity, sociability, the creation of links, discernment, the establishment of a new living/professional space represent plentiful resources that she draws on from within herself, and energies to be captured around her as capacities to be developed that lead these young women to renew and reinvent themselves outside their habitual context.
calling for a meaningful awareness
All this calls for a meaningful awareness that the coach can facilitate.
If the coachee chooses such a path, then coaching young women internationally can form a powerful driver for personal and professional growth with high value-added for all concerned.
Measuring the impact of change
The results achieved by the female coachee will reflect the path she has travelled in terms of cultural learning, self-awareness and her relationship with others. The indicators with which the female coachee will be able to measure the impact of her support will be revealed, for example, in the way she interacts more effectively with her foreign environment, in exchanging information during negotiations, in meetings, or in communication with her local line managers.
Contacts and outside-the-box learnings that the coachee will have been able to develop as part of her assignments abroad will enable her, if she gives herself the means, to unlock her creative potential and use it as a source of inspiration for self-discovery, and eventually make an impact on her environment.