In today’s world, business is international. As the global operations of U.S. firms acquire increasing strategic importance, so do the personnel that manage those operations, particularly expatriate managers. Since a growing number of the expatriate managers are women, U.S. firms urgently need to understand the issues surrounding the placement of women in overseas operations.
There are several reasons for the increasing number of women expatriates. First, women are reaching higher levels of management generally, and, because of the need for international experience among top managers, there is pressure to send them abroad.1 In addition, changes in the Equal Employment Opportunity laws in 1991 explicitly state that nondiscrimination in hiring has extraterritorial application.2 Finally, although certainly not least, is the increasing number of dual-career couples in the United States; many male candidates (and their spouses) now find overseas assignments less attractive.
To better understand the experiences of women expatriates, we researched the adjustment of foreign women professionals to living and working in Japan. We chose Japan as the site for our research because it is often seen as a difficult environment for foreign working women, particularly those in business or in professions such as law and engineering. Proponents of this view point out the current dearth of Japanese women managers, ten years after passage of their equal employment law.3 Also, Japan is enormously important in the world economy and to the bottom lines of many U.S. firms, making the performance of foreign personnel there critical. Finally, our initial research uncovered a significant number of foreign women professionals working in Japan. We felt that we could learn much from these women’s experiences that can be valuable to firms considering hiring foreign women for operations in Japan and other countries.
In 1992 and 1993, we surveyed the members of Foreign Executive Women, an organization based in Tokyo. In addition, we surveyed the foreign female members of the American Chamber of Commerce of Japan. The surveys yielded a 32 percent response rate, providing a total of ninety-one responses (see Figure 1 for a breakdown of the job functions of the women surveyed). In addition, we spent a week in Tokyo interviewing eighteen foreign women professionals in various fields (e.g., business, law, consulting) and organization levels (e.g., vice president, accountant, marketing director).