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Women Working Overseas: Meet Catherine Eddy

In response to PwC’s findings that women have a lack of role models in the global mobility sector, we’re showcasing positive stories of women who’ve lived and worked internationally. While each experience is unique, every story maintains a common thread of deep personal growth, which has had a lasting impact throughout the lives of each of the women profiled.

According to The PwC/CEL in-depth survey potential family impact is cited as a consistent reason for declining international assignments in both men and women.

Another study found the number of parents who wish to undertake international assignments is virtually the same across genders at 41% female parents and 40% male parents.

Despite these consistent responses, there is often internalised biases against women due to stereotypes that over associate women with a family.

“Assumptions around the availability and willingness of female employees to move overseas can result in viable female candidates being overlooked before the selection process has even begun.”

Interestingly for Catherine Eddy, it was precisely because she was a parent that made the opportunity to work in Indonesia so enticing.

Catherine with her family in the centre of Jakarta

Taking on an international assignment as a parent

When Catherine and her husband John were considering moving a suburb over, they had a casual look at an open home and shared their plans with their three kids. Unfortunately, they weren’t entirely on the same page. The couple were inundated with questions and concerns about the move and what it would mean for their lives. Questions like, “Will we be at the same school? How far is it? Will we have the same friends?”

“And I thought – what have we done? We’ve brought them up to have this really closeted existence,” Catherine says.

It was this interaction that played in her mind as she was approached at a conference to take on an assignment as an Executive Director with the global data and measurement company, Nielsen, in Indonesia. 

“A recruiter approached me and said she was looking to fill a role in Indonesia and had I thought of working overseas?” Catherine says.

“I said I hadn’t, but given a conversation I’d had a couple of weeks ago with my kids and my husband, I actually think we would be interested.”

This exchange went on to bring about a significant change for Catherine’s career and subsequently the life of her family.

The assignment was pitched as a two-year project which then morphed into ten years living and working in Indonesia.

“I had a lot of people say to me – are you kidding? Would you seriously take your kids to a country like Indonesia?” Catherine says.

Granted, an international move during high school would be disruptive, but Catherine knew the change would bring about a whole new set of opportunities for both her career and her family.

“The challenge in moving overseas with pre-teen/teen kids was enormous – but so too were the benefits,” she says. “It turned out to the best move we could have made. There were certainly career benefits but, in addition, we developed a closeness as a family that I don’t think will ever be lost.”

The move encouraged her children to become connected to international issues and the broader communities living and functioning worldwide – very different to the kids who were afraid to move one suburb away from their family home.

“All three of our children have a much broader perspective on life than they would have had we only lived in Australia, along with a second language and an interest in international affairs. They all still travel back to Indonesia on a regular basis and have retained their language skills.”

Catherine cites a good deal of the success to a supportive partner.

“I think while in Australia it’s possible for you both to work, but that can become quite problematic in another country because you don’t have those other support networks like you do in your home country. You don’t have parents or life-long friends that you can call on,” she says.

“I was fortunate that my partner wasn’t working when we moved initially so he was able to provide that support for the kids.”

Daughter May at the end of their street in Jakarta

Working as a female expat in Indonesia

When Catherine started working in Indonesia, she became immediately aware of the lack of female peers.

“As I think now, I cannot remember a single expat President Director of an international company and even of the local Indonesian companies,” she says.

It was also often assumed that she was of a lower level than she was or even, in social settings, that she was the trailing spouse and her husband was the one working.

“Conversations were initially directed at my husband in a social and business setting until he made it clear that in fact, it was he who was trailing,” Catherine says.

Her children had similar experiences at school.

“They would come home and say [kids at school] are saying why doesn’t your dad work? What kind of weird family have you got where the mum works and your dad doesn’t?” Catherine says.  “I actually think they took a sense of pride in the [fact] that they were a little bit different.”

This difference also came with some practical challenges.

“The first shock I received was when the HR department at Nielsen sent me a message before we had moved to tell me that, ‘we cannot get a spouse permit for your husband because Indonesia does not recognise a female head of household,’” Catherine says.

This meant for the first few years while John wasn’t employed he was effectively on a family visit visa and had to exit the country regularly to satisfy the visa requirements.

Catherine with team members and friends during Nielsen’s Global Impact Day

International assignments and career progression

When Catherine left Indonesia, it was because of another opportunity with a global research company, this time based back home in Australia.

“Given that there are not so many global research companies in Australia I suspect that had I decided to stay here and not taken that opportunity to move to Indonesia with Nielsen my career would not have progressed as quickly,” she says.  “In fact, I’m certain of it.”

While Catherine says nothing is a given and you still have to do the job and get results, she seems to think there is a correlation with working overseas and career progression.

“It seems that companies do reward people for making that move and being open to making that move.”

And working specifically in Indonesia helped too.

“It’s a country with enormous geographical, cultural and religious diversity, so you really learn from that and you’re developing Asia capability and understanding” she says.

Tips for those wanting to incorporate a time working internationally into their career

Catherine says the best thing you can do is to make your goals known.

“Just be really upfront,” she says.

“I think sometimes we [assume] if we put our head down and work really hard if there’s an opportunity somewhere else they’ll offer it to me. Well, they won’t – because they won’t know.”

If your company has an established international pathway or offices overseas, let your management know as early as you can that you’re interested. It’s also a pretty good idea to let your HR team know your interest too as they may have a role in the decision making.

If there are no established international assignments or opportunities, Catherine recommends doing your research.

“Learn as much as you can. Talk to people who worked in the countries [you’re interested in], connect with the recruiters, engage mentors,” she says. 

“Learn from them — how did they go about it? Who did they talk to, and which countries did they think are the most beneficial to get experience in?”

You won’t get anywhere by wishing. If it’s something you want to do, do everything in your power to make it work.

“You can’t make any assumptions about your career – you’ve got to really take the bull by its horns and make it happen for yourself because no one else is going to do it for you.”

Photographs courtesy of Catherine Eddy
Article by Bree Caggiati

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