International Dual Career Network – People’s Insights Volume 2, Issue 34

This post is inspired by ideas shared at the Global Women’s Forum 2013 in October at Deauville, France, in particular at Nestlé’s Sue Johnson’s session “Dual Careers: Getting and Keeping the Best Talents,” Annika Joelsson’sBypassing the boundaries of dual careers and mobility,” and Unilever’s Doug Baillie’s “The Future of HR.” 

What is IDCN?

Founded by Nestlé, the International Dual Career Network is a network of multi-national corporates that help mobile employees’ partners find jobs and integrate into new locations.

International mobility is common at large companies with a global footprint, and many companies believe the experience is crucial to developing senior talent. In recent years, research shows that the success of international assignments is largely affected by the happiness of the family – and to a large part dependant on the spouse or partner finding a job in the new location. In fact, a partner’s career affects recruitment for mobile positions in addition to retention of this talent.


Nestlé founded IDCN in 2011 to address this challenge. The premise is simple: partners of international employees can join IDCN for advice on finding a job and to network with local HR professionals. Other organizations can join the network to tap into a pool of international “turn-key” talent and support their international employees.

IDCN was piloted in 2011 in the Lake Geneva region in Switzerland, where Nestlé has its headquarters. Today, IDCN exists in Mexico City, Paris and Zurich, and will roll out to London, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, New York, Barcelona, Malaysia and Singapore next.

Rising demographic: Dual Career Couples

“Dual career” refers to couples in which both partners are working and both are career-focused. The term can also refer to couples in which both partners are working at the same company.

Here are some statistics that back the trend we’re seeing around us, via Jackie and John Coleman/Harvard Business Review:

“Between 1996 and 2006, the percentage of two-income married couples rose 31% in the US. Now 47.5% of all American married couples are dual-career couples. In Canada, the percentage of husband wife families that were dual earners is roughly 70%, and approximately two-thirds of two-adult families have two incomes in the UK.”

For more on dual-career families, trends and implications, see this presentation.

In the last few decades, the challenge of dual career couples affected US universities in particular; as highly qualified academics (PhDs) are usually recruited from other areas and tend to have partners in the same field or at senior positions. Universities addressed this by hiring both partners, on merit, by giving both full-time jobs or having both partners share the same job.

In the last decade, the challenge of dual career couples has become apparent at global organizations (like the UN) and multinational corporates. In 2004, the UN created the UN Global Mobility program, a global network for spouses and guidelines on creating local networks.  Around 60% of international companies provide support for partner job searches according to Alain Verstandig, MD of NetExpat, and “thirty percent have a systematic approach and a clear and structured policy.” 

Dual career and the associated challenges

Concerns around a partner’s career affects both recruitment and retention of international employees.

Alain Verstandig notes:

“The problem of dual careers is itself two-sided! In the first instance it affects the people who have not yet accepted an international transfer, whether this is an expatriation or recruitment for an international assignment. For these people, the problem of the partner’s career is the prime reason for turning down the opportunity.

But, then, the problem again affects those who go on to accept the challenge. For them, the partner’s problems in finding the right professional opportunity in the new country are the prime reason for the failure or premature termination of an international assignment. A McKinsey study has demonstrated that 70% of the factors leading to a failed expatriation are family-related.

ECA, a company that specializes in expatriate issues, notes:

According to research carried out by the Permits Foundation almost 60% of spouses say that they would be unlikely to relocate in future to a country where it is difficult for a spouse or partner to get a work permit.”

Employers are noticing. Barry Rodin, Chief Economist at ECA shared a 2012 Managing Mobility survey finding:

“Partners’ careers, children’s education and career concerns: the search for removing formidable barriers to mobility continues: 90% of employers responding to this year’s survey rank at least one of these issues in their three most pressing concerns when recruiting for long−term assignments.”

ECA 2012 Managing Mobility survey finding on Recruitment
ECA 2012 Managing Mobility survey finding on Retention/Assignment Success

The Vision: What IDCN offers employees

IDCN offers international employees and their partners a support network, job advice, networking opportunities and a potential job database. Employees and their partners volunteer to help run local networks, and the member corporations fund the endeavour.

According to the IDCN website, the networks offers partners:

  1. Support in professional integration in a new country
  2. Opportunity to network with HR professionals, corporate representatives and like minded spouses or partners
  3. Visibility of professional development opportunities

Peter Vogt, head of human resources at Nestlé, shared:

“We want to put partners of our staff on an equal playing field with other jobseekers to find employment in a new country. This network provides advice on CVs, guidance on how best to look for a job, networking opportunities and access to HR contacts with member companies.”

Here’s a testimonial of how such services can help partners (based on services provided by Net Expat):

“I arrived in my new home country with my husband in January 2000. I wanted to find work as quickly as possible. In addition to language problems, I ran up against the administrative authorities who sent me from one place to another. So I took my courage in my own two hands and, without any help from anyone else, started to offer my services to the companies that interested me. I quickly realized that something wasn’t working: the two or three interviews I had were unsuccessful and I got a bit depressed.

“I then had the good luck to have access to the services of Net Expat through my husband’s employer and, together, we worked carefully on the specific aspects that were the weak points of my offer: my CV was rewritten to conform to the local norms and was immediately better received. The preparatory work for interviews and the explanations I received on the various cultural aspects that, coming from Latin America, I was totally unaware of, helped me enormously. Finally, I learned to “sell” myself to companies by applying a recruitment logic that was different to the one I had been used to. Quite logically I found a great job within a couple of weeks.”

Here’s a testimonial of a partner who found a job at Nestlé through IDCN:

“It was difficult to integrate in Switzerland before I found out about the scheme. The network became a kind of coach, helping me to gain perspective and handle the difficult changes as an expat.

 “IDCN really helped to fill the gap to take proactive steps to find a suitable job and create my own network of people.”

The Vision: What IDCN offers companies

IDCN offers corporates access to a turn-key talent pool and a solution to address dual career challenges faced by their own international employees. Theoretically, the larger the network, the larger the number of job openings and the larger the talent pool.

Corporate benefits of joining the global IDCN

According to the IDCN website, the network offers corporates:

  1. Access to untapped turn-key Talent pool
  2. Access to a global mobility support for spouses and partners of international employees
  3. Enhance the Employee Value Proposition through becoming Dual Career friendly organisation

IDCN doesn’t impose any legal restrictions on corporate members – they can join and leave freely, make their own recruitment decisions and policies and are not required to hire or prioritize partners or spouses in the network. In return, corporate members are expected to support the network with active participation at events, permission to use their facilities for events, and general information about job openings.

How does IDCN ensure companies don’t poach hired talent from other corporate members? Sue Johnson, Nestlé’s Head of Gender Balance and Diversity, explains the network runs on trust on this aspect.

IDCN currently has on-board over 50 organizations – multinationals, non-profits and educational institutes – at one or more of its 4 locations. The IDCN executive board comprises of members from Nestlé, Cargill, L’Oreal and PMI, who are responsible for overseeing the strategic direction and evolution of IDCN.

IDCN corporate members

Is IDCN a Success?

IDCN’s pilot program in Switzerland has organized over 10 events, has a roster of 460 partners registered, 40 spouse volunteers and has successfully helped 20 partners find new jobs. In its newer locations Paris, Zurich and Mexico City, IDCN has organized 6 events, including workshops and career fairs and is already seeing high participation and positive feedback from partners.

Success - Facts n Figures 2Success - Facts n Figures 1Source: IDN Corporate Brochure June 2013

Dual Career support as a recruitment tool

With dual career couples on the rise, experts point out that dual career support is a new-age recruitment tool (much like social media engagement!).

Jan Van Acoleyen, Vice-President Human Resources of Alcatel Microelectronics, said:

“Family issues remain the sensitive aspect of international mobility. Today, we place a great deal of attention on dual career problems. The opportunities for work for the partner may turn out to strongly affect the acceptance of an international assignment and will later prove to be fundamental in guaranteeing the integration of the transferee and his/her family in the new host country. One often forgets that for the transferee, the continuity of his or her career is unaffected, as there is no change of employer, merely of country of residence. For the partner, however, the change is total.” 

Is it worth the effort? In response to a similar question at the Women’s Forum, Sue Johnson shared an off-hand figure of 1 million as the cost of an unsuccessful international mobility (in terms of training, recruiting, replacing, knowledge lost etc.).

The figure becomes a huge concern as the numbers add up, both within the company, and across companies. According to a Nestlé release:

“A survey by one of the IDCN members Ernst & Young revealed that more than 10% of expats leave their jobs before the end of their contracts, in one in 12 companies worldwide.”

Why is mobility so necessary?

In both the IDCN session and another session on dual careers at the Women’s Forum, people asked “Why is mobility so crucial.” Their argument – companies like Nestlé would save on costs by hiring local talent and families would be spared the burden of relocating. This was especially a concern amongst single parents who felt their career would be negatively affected if they refused to be mobile, yet worried about balancing a new job in a new country without the support of a second parent.

Sue Johnson shared that mobility was a part of the Nestlé experience and was an important experience to prepare talent for global roles (the company does after all operate in 86 countries). Mobility also helps transfer talent to places where the right talent is lacking.

Nestlé CEO Paul Bulcke elaborates on the culture of diversity within the global company in an interview with The Focus. Here’s an excerpt of what he had to say:

“Experience shows that offering career opportunities to talented professionals regardless of their nationality motivates exactly the right people to join our company. Our primary concern is not ensuring that the largest possible number of nationalities is represented in the Nestlé Group, but that different ways of thinking and/or ethnic perspectives are integrated and respected in all our decision-making processes.”

He also shared the extent of diversity at the Nestlé HQ:

“This diversity extends all the way to the company’s top leadership: the 13 members of our Executive Board come from nine different countries. And here in our Vevey headquarters alone, our employees represent some one hundred nationalities.”

Need for mobility

Annika Joelsson, who organized the session “Bypassing the boundaries of dual careers and mobility,” pointed out that employees can get global exposure without having to move to a different country, by traveling on frequent short trips, or by working with a diverse team at their home location.

Mobility is definitely not on the decrease. According to ECA’s 2012 Managing Mobility survey, 62% of companies anticipate increases in long-term mobile assignees.

Increase in international assignments

Next trend: Mutli-generational families in the workplace?

While trying to tackle the challenges today, also keep in mind the challenges coming froth tomorrow. In the sessionThe Future of HR,” Unilever’s Chief HR Officer Doug Baillie noted that economic hardship and personal ambitions would ensure more older people in the workforce, and women empowerment would ensure more women in the work force. For large companies like Unilever (which has 173,000 employees globally) multi-generational families in the work place are a near reality – with a grandfather, father and daughter working in the same company.

The world is changing. The pressure to prepare companies for new demographics, new trends and future challenges is high – as is the call for effective solutions.

Doug Baillie
Source: womens_forum on Flickr


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Nidhi Chimnani

Nidhi Chimnani

Nidhi is Director of Research and Insights at MSLGROUP. She tracks digital consumer trends for People’s Insights and is community manager of MSLGROUP’s insights community SPRINT. Tweet her at @nidhichimnani

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