Accelerating the Advancement of Women Leaders 


August 6, 2019

Preparing to go international
If you hear London (Sydney, Tokyo or Sao Paolo) calling, the smartest thing you can do now is get prepared to answer. There are wise moves you can make today while working in your home country to explore your options, develop transferable skills, become more culturally astute and better understand the trade-offs of pursuing an international assignment.  
Lynn Keays, a native of Canada and VP of Human Resources for Sysco Europe, completed a three-year assignment in Houston, Texas and is closing in on her second year working in the United Kingdom. “If you are even considering an international move in your future, there is so much you can do early in your career to both make that a strong possibility and help ensure a successful experience when it actually comes to pass,” Keays advises.

Sharon Miller, also a Canadian, who has lived in the U.S. and the Netherlands for the past 13 years working with Lamb Weston, agrees. Miller is currently responsible for Lamb Weston’s business in Latin America and Asia Pacific as SVP and General Manager, Global Business Unit. “It’s important to show interest in an international path early and often,” Miller says. “Being flexible about both role and location can greatly increase the opportunities to make it happen.”

Keays and Miller share these insights for exploring whether an international assignment is likely to be a good fit for you and how to position yourself for those opportunities.

  • Seek out roles and volunteer for projects that interact with different geographies even though they are home based. “Roles such as this will likely provide opportunities for occasional travel to different locations and exposure to different ways of working, language and cultural differences and other market dynamics and realities,” Keays says.
  • Ask to listen into business reviews on international segments of the business and familiarize yourself with your company’s international assets, products and go-to-market strategies.
  • Accept a short-term assignment to a different geography. Even moving temporarily within your home country will provide insights into how quickly you adapt to new work and living situations.
  • Learn about different cultures, and in particular, how business operates there through online, company and local resources. “Invest the time to understand and appreciate how other cultural values manifest in the workplace as well as in personal and community connections and in attitudes toward women,” Keays says.
  • Share your interest with your boss and other influencers in the organization. “Even today, some leaders assume a single woman or a woman with children is not interested in international assignments,” Miller acknowledges. “Make it clear this is a step you want to explore in your career so others can help you get there.”
  • Keep an open mind and don’t be overly picky. “If you are only willing to consider one or two countries where your company does business, you will severely limit your options, experience greater competition and miss some really interesting opportunities,” Miller says. “Remember, the adventure is a highly valuable part of the experience.”
  • Consider early learning in the language of your target country. Knowing the basic elements will help you hit the ground running and better prepare you for language immersion.
  • Ask colleagues in your organization and professional network with international experience to share candidly the good and the bad. “International assignments and the required personal and family transition rarely go off without a hitch,” Keays says. “It’s very helpful to learn early on about some of the most common challenges others have experienced and how they dealt with them.”
Just like financial investing, early preparation will pay the greatest dividends. A realistic understanding of international assignments, careful career preparation and deep respect for other cultures will make you welcome the world over.

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