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May 30, 2019
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The oil and gas industry is committed to increasing gender diversity, and particularly to making international assignments attractive to women. Taking up an expatriate oil and gas role presents great career advantages for women, but mothers will also want to know how this can be balanced with raising their families. As part of our “females in oil & gas” blog series, here we provide you with some insights and real-life examples to help you make your expatriation decision.​

1. Consider the type of assignment you can undertake

The oil and gas industry uses a variety of different types of assignments to service their international operations. These include long-term postings (typically for two or three years), short-term assignments (around six months to a year), and rotational positions (where you might spend 28 days in the field and 28 days back at home).

Long-term assignments are usually offered accompanied – so you can take your family with you. Short-term and rotation are typically on solo status, meaning some family separation. Consider which suits you best. Research shows that many women tend to prefer long-term assignments as they provide family closeness and more family life stability:

“My perspective has completely changed since I became a mother … obviously there are family considerations and they are paramount. I would be concerned that I wasn’t put back in a pool just waiting to be sent out when the next project of interest came along.”
Una, mother of a new baby, in North Africa on a long-term assignment

2. Consider the location of your assignment

Consider the location of your assignment carefully. Family-friendly locations can provide excellent childcare support as well as good career opportunities:

“Childcare is a particular issue here in Malaysia. Women have affordable domestic support … I think that more women are able to enter higher technical roles and expatriate roles here because of this. The childcare enables women to win out.”
Fallon, HR Manager in the Asian Region

“The Norwegians are very pro-family – the general work-life balance for a Norwegian is excellent.” Polly, mother of a new baby in Scandinavia

3. Look at the housing options and commuting times

Expatriates typically live close to the worksite and this means less time spent commuting and more time with your family. This can be excellent for family life:

“Part of the benefit of being an expat is that you get to have your housing quite close to the office. And this is key because it means that your hours between work and home are quite well-defined, and you are not spending a lot of time commuting or a lot of time sorting out other people to take your children to places.”
Izzy, mother of three young children, Caribbean

Indeed, some mothers say they couldn’t work or could only work part-time if they hadn’t taken up an expatriate role in locations where school hours and housing locations were favourable:

“We can still have quite a large impact in our children’s lives in that we can take them to school and still be home by 5.30. Whereas if I was in the UK, I would be commuting greater distances, I don’t know how we would cope with trying to get the kids to school.”
Izzy, mother of three young children Caribbean

4. Think about the schools

International oil and gas firms typically provide a range of schooling support for parents expatriating with children. This can include support for school fees as well as practical help to find suitable schools and gain entrance places. As Human Resources staff acknowledge:

If we are going to encourage people to go overseas, it is the education”.
Zara, expatriate in an HR role in Central Asia

And expatriate mothers agree:

Yes, the school fees get paid, which I think is a huge bonus.”
Val, mother of one teenage child in boarding school, based in North America

Your Human Resources Department can tell you what’s in their assignment policy and the level of financial support on offer.

International schools potentially offer a highly positive experience for your children as they are acknowledged as having high standards:

“It is certainly one thing that I would be considering … the schools, what are the standards in schools.”
Wanda, mother of two young children in East Asia

Studying abroad exposes children to multi-lingual and multi-cultural experiences, developing them as international citizens. However, as a parent:

“… you have to establish whether the schools are actually of a standard that you are prepared to accept for your child’s education.”
Izzy, mother of three young children, Caribbean

5. Don’t forget security and medical issues

Of course, you also need to consider safety, security and health issues. Oil and gas exploration can be in some pretty challenging locations, some quite remote from healthcare facilities. This might be more of a concern for you if you have children:

“I was keen to move there and then I guess things gradually changed as my family grew, you know, I had children, and it was then a balance between what was right for my career and what was right for my family.”
Wanda, mother of two young children in East Asia

“Central Asia is not my first choice of location as a place to live with a family, because the medical facilities are arguably not good enough with children.”
Susan, mother of a toddler, in North Africa

If you want to take an oil and gas expatriate assignment and have a family, think through the key things that could be of concern to you and talk to someone in the industry. There’s a lot of support for parents mobilising with children – but the location, career and family outcomes must all combine for a positive outcome.

References

Shortland, S. (2018) ‘Female Expatriates’ Motivations and Challenges: The Case of Oil and Gas’ Gender in Management: An International Journal, Vol 33 No 1, pp. 50-65. 

Shortland, S. (2016) ‘The Purpose of Expatriation: Why Women Undertake International Assignments’ Human Resource Management, Vol 55 No 4, pp. 655-678.

Shortland, S. (2013) The Effects of Children’s Education and Supporting Organizational Policy and Practice on Corporate Expatriation in International Education and Schools: Moving Beyond the First 40 Years, Pearce, R. (ed.) Bloomsbury, London, pp. 37-57.