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Working Women Overseas: Meet Nancy Settle-Murphy

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.

Nancy Settle-Murphy runs Guided Insights, a virtual training and facilitation service helping distributed teams collaborate and communicate effectively. A role that wouldn’t be possible without her extensive international work, including a stint living and working in Hong Kong.

“After coming back [from Hong Kong] I realised this is what I want to do,” Nancy says.  “I want to help people like me, and companies like mine, be successful and leverage these amazing experiences.”

This was just a small part of the self-discovery and learning Nancy went through during her time overseas with Digital Equipment Corporation.

Pursuing an international assignment

“I expressed interest in working internationally and helping grow the business outside of the US,” says Nancy of how her assignment eventuated.

At the time she was travelling throughout the US for her role as a business consultant, providing training and facilitation help to various internal clients. She pitched the idea to shift her focus internationally instead.

“I had a boss who was really supportive of me, so he said, ‘yeah if you want to do that go for it’,” she says.

From there, Nancy began travelling extensively throughout Europe and Asia.

“I was based in the States and travelled extensively. This was before the days of Skype and virtual meetings, so it was either email, phone, or go there.”

One of these short-term trips included a stop into Hong Kong, the company’s Asia-Pacific HQ, to explore how she might support their fast-growing consulting business.

“Before I even got home, they asked me to come to live there.”

Within four months, Nancy had packed up and moved to Hong Kong.

Tips on pitching an international assignment to your manager

“The first thing is to determine whether you are ready, willing and able,” Nancy says.

“A lot of people think it sounds like a great idea and it’s going to be so exciting and get over there and realise this is not for [them].”

She says anyone with a lot of commitments back home should reconsider whether the timing is right. A sick parent, children who won’t be joining on the trip or even pets, can all make committing to time away harder.

“Then think about the country or region where you think you can add the most value,” she says. “Ask: Where are the local managers most likely to value you and why? And then ask yourself whether this will be a good fit for you.”

From here, you can build a business case outlining how the move will be beneficial for the business and for you personally.

“It’s not something that is often given altruistically,” Nancy says. “I think you have to make a good business case for it.”

Living overseas

For Nancy, the move was a completely new experience, despite all her previous travel.

“To be submerged in this new country that was so different. The smells, the sights, the sounds, the language,” she says. “It was absolutely exhilarating.”

But it did come with some challenges.

“I would say I did go into culture shock. There were days when I could hardly even find my voice, especially when I was outside of the workplace,” Nancy says.

The work itself was exciting, challenging and fulfilling, but Nancy found the culture of Hong Kong challenging to assimilate to.

“I lived in a hotel for 3 months which was really rough for someone who loves to cook,” she says.

“I’m a very social person, and I had many times of intense loneliness.”

Despite these challenges, Nancy is sure they were a part of her growth experience.

“I felt like a richer person in so many ways. I got to feel so comfortable in my own skin, I got to really love my own company so much,” she says.

“I felt like a global citizen, and I hadn’t felt that way before, despite all the travel I had done. I really felt like having now lived and worked somewhere else showed me a different way of working and a different perspective.”

The transition back home

At the end of her assignment, Nancy was offered a full-time position in Hong Kong. This would mean fully localising to a Hong Kong salary without expat benefits or any guaranteed opportunities back home in the States. In the end, Nancy opted for moving back home.

“It was too big of a risk for me,” she says.

Although, the transition home brought with it its own issues.

While on assignment, Nancy’s US boss had retired, and her role had been absorbed, so moving back meant entering a new team. She also found, at the time, little support reassimilating back into her home country.

“I think a lot of companies don’t know how to repatriate people when they come back,” she says.

“But even sadder for the companies, and the people who have these international assignments, is that they don’t take advantage of this newly enriched person,” Nancy says.

Thankfully, Nancy says she is seeing a lot of changes in this area from the clients she works with now.

“Some of my clients have programmes where once somebody goes overseas and comes back, they appoint them new responsibilities to help share that knowledge,” she says.

Even without this kind of structured support or reintroduction program, Nancy found herself approaching her work differently. The experience broadened her perspective, and she found she would naturally be more empathetic to other points of view.

“Once I got back, I would constantly find myself being an advocate for people not in the US,” she says. “I insisted that my colleagues look at things outside of the usual myopic US view.”

Nancy still uses these skills, forged during her time in Hong Kong, in her work today.

“I’m always elevating the conversation to think about cultural differences,” she says.

“I considered it a huge privilege to have had that opportunity to work internationally. I think if you have a chance – do it, you’ll be forever changed.”

Photographs courtesy of Nancy Settle-Murphy
Article by Bree Caggiati

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