The Foreign Service Journal, September 2009

18 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 9 I f there is one thing the Foreign Service community does well, it is adaptation. We are used to ex- ploring new countries, setting up new homes, making new friends, learning new jobs and sending our children to new schools every few years. Success- ful Foreign Service families enjoy the thrill and the newness of each assign- ment; but even the most seasoned can find change challenging. As the makeup of the diplomatic community changes, so, too, do those challenges. Today, more than ever be- fore, highly educated and successful Foreign Service entrants are married to equally high-achieving individuals who want their own careers. While some spouses and partners welcome the op- portunity to spend more time raising a family, to volunteer internationally, or pursue a personal avocation full-time, many seek employment opportunities. The Family Liaison Office’s current spousal employment statistics show a 37-percent employment rate for Eligi- ble Family Members living overseas, compared to 52 percent for two-career households in the U.S. Many Foreign Service spouses and partners seeking employment are frus- trated by what seem to be limited op- portunities. After several years, many of them give up trying to work, while others adjust their expectations and take part-time or embassy roles as they are available. Still others return to the United States, with or without their sig- nificant others, to try to pick up the pieces of their careers. Acknowledging the importance of this issue and its impact on retention of outstanding employees, the State Department is taking steps to address it —both by preparing families for the realities they will face overseas and de- veloping programs that can help spouses and partners find employ- ment at post. The Global Employ- ment Initiative and Strategic Net- working Assistance Program, the pro- fessional associate program, the Com- munity Liaison Office newsletters advertising Eligible Family Member employment opportunities, and the recent initiative to expand EFM status to same-sex domestic partners are all important efforts that go a long way to- ward helping spouses and partners find work. However, there is clearly more to be done. Some spouses and partners who teach; have medical, legal or financial backgrounds; or work for companies with offices abroad find that they can continue in their chosen field just as easily as they do at home. However, those with jobs in U.S.-based organiza- tions, or who want the opportunity to maintain a consistent career from post to post, often find they have few options or resources to draw upon. The good news is that with new technologies and motivated managers, some Foreign Service spouses and part- ners are discovering that their U.S.- based careers are not over. In fact, there is a burgeoning work force of FS family members that is “flattening” the world as they know it, enabling them to pursue professional careers while living abroad. The time for this shift is ripe. Across all sectors in the United States, organi- zations facing a new economic reality are looking to retain their talent while increasing the efficiency of doing busi- ness. Technological advancements, in- cluding increased worldwide Internet access, VoIP Telephony and innova- tions in computer-based information and project management, not only make possible telecommuting from home offices in the States, but also from home offices while stationed overseas. Many Foreign Service spouses and partners are discovering that with some personal initiative, a willing employer and an Internet con- ‘Virtually’ There: FS Spouses Build Careers Without Borders B Y K ATHERINE J ACOBS AND C AROLYN H O FS K NOW -H OW More than ever before, Foreign Service spouses and partners are pursuing successful careers in their own right. Here’s how.