D. Sharon Pruitt
Last month we discussed the opportunities for women in the workplace and how the type of business you choose may matter. Before that, we looked at the size of a business and how it might impact opportunities for women in the workplace. This month we’re looking at a third dimension of discussion — the location or geography of where the business is located.
When considering a place to begin — or sustain — your career, women need to be aware of the impact geography can have on their career choices. Let’s take a look …
While it would seem to go without saying, your personal situation has a lot to do with your mobility. All this is a personal choice, but ensure you think it through before committing to a career with a lot of mobility. Are you single, married, living with someone, with children or no children? How might that change along the way? These are all things that must be considered. My wife and I moved 15 times in our first 30 years of marriage. We had three children who went to 13 different schools in 8 states. It’s not for everyone. Just have your eyes open and know what is right for you before the problem or opportunity — depending on how you look at it — comes up and affects your personal life.
Foreign or Domestic
While circumstances change in our lives, if you are a career woman working for an international company — think about it. There will be opportunities that come along, and when they do, it is nice if you have thought about whether you would or would not work overseas. Do you have preferences? Usually large companies don’t care; they want you where they want you. Of course if you are a woman set on working overseas then you should choose a company with that opportunity. If you’re career-mined it’s important to think about whether you would work overseas well before you are presented with the choice.
If you’re interested in foreign opportunities … exactly where might you go? If you say, “Anywhere,” make sure you are up to the task. An assignment in the Middle East is not going to be very female-friendly for instance. An assignment to the Far East is going to offer different challenges in a male-dominated culture. An assignment in some countries offers an element of danger. Others offer a challenge in living conditions. Another consideration is exactly what is your company paying for the move, living allowances, travel options and much more. The point here is to know what you are getting into if you decide to work in a foreign country.
When you say you will go anywhere for a promotion … make sure that you have the personal fertilizer to keep that bright green grass on the other side as green as you see it today. In our 15 moves we had some good places and some bad places, and you know what made the difference? Our attitudes. Never move and compare your new place to your old. It doesn’t work. Each place is distinctive and you will see what you choose to see. In each of these dimensions of geography, realize that they are personal choices as I said above. They are not right and wrong … only right and wrong for you.
Considering the dimensions above, there are some differences for women between areas within the domestic arena. While they are slowly going away, some cultural differences remain and should be considered .
Sections of the Country
The United States remains a very diverse nation. We have many sub-cultures. We have a lot less than we once did, but you notice the difference between living in rural Pennsylvania and Baltimore. There is a vast difference between living in rural Ohio and rural Pennsylvania and rural New Jersey. There is a difference between living in New York City and across the river in Jersey. There is a very different culture still between the South and the North. I was with a company in 1991 that bought back some of their franchisees. When we went in for the conversion in Roanoke, Virginia, the organization still had separate bathrooms for African-Americans and caucasians. Do you think they would welcome a woman supervisor in that environment? Enlightened companies today are working to change all I am discussing. But do not move anywhere blindly. Be aware of what you are getting yourself in to. Do your homework well ahead of time. Pay attention as you travel, and you won’t waste a couple years of your career in an impossible situation.
While working for a large company out of Texas I built much of my career by being willing to take positions nobody wanted on the East Coast. Why did nobody want these positions? They didn’t ‘like’ the style of East Coast people, nor did they like the ‘old’ cities. What is the style of East Coast people? In my experience, they talk fast and they talk straight. You might not like what they have to say, but you will know what they are thinking. My experience in the South is opposite. People are very cordial and nice, but if you are not in the ‘network’, well, it is just niceness because most are raised to be polite. Go to the West Coast and it’s different, very different. California is its own thing. Again, let me say that none of this is right or wrong, good or bad … it is what you will make of it. It is life at its grandest.
In closing, let me say women have more opportunities today than they have ever had. You knew that was coming, but you still have your eyes open — even in 2012. Cultures are still very different whether here or abroad. Be proactive. The difference between man and animal is the power of choice. How tall will a tree grow? As tall as it can. How long will a cow graze in the pasture? As long as you let them.
But we humans have the power of choice. We can choose to be all we can … or we can choose to be less than we can. The choice is yours. Your choice of career and how you grow in that career is up to you. The type business you choose to work, the type of industry and the geography are choices you ultimately make. You have a brave new world … but it is not yet perfect. Choose wisely!