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Doing Family on the Move

Highly-Skilled Migrants in Switzerland and Germany

Florian Tissot

This book focuses on the coordination between family life and professional career under the condition of repeated mobilities. It analyses the division between the labour force work and the care work of couples of highly-skilled migrants settling in either Switzerland or Germany. A mutually exclusive model provides an innovative understanding of gendered hierarchies in career achievement. The male partners operate three parallel elements: an upward professional career, a family-life implying child(ren), and maintaining their availability to further unplanned relocations. The female partners can only coordinate two of these concurrently. In fact, the male partners combine the three elements by taking advantage of specific, and mostly invisible, care work that the female partner provides.

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11 Conclusion: Motility and Mobility

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11 Conclusion: Motility and Mobility

From a broader perspective, “motility” and “flexibility” are close concepts. One could say that “motility” is a form of geographical flexibility. Flexibility is an ability to answer to a professional opportunity quickly without having to rearrange the “family work integration”. Someone who can go on a business trip over the weekend and take two compensatory days out during the week is deemed flexible. Someone single without a child can accept a position abroad without hesitation, which requires working over the weekend without having to arrange or rearrange care work (as it is low if non-existent), is “motile” and flexible. It is the case of, for instance, John at the beginning of his career. He moved from the United States to Hong Kong in less than two weeks between the moment he learned about the position and his actual migration (7.2.1 Structural Constraints, 187). At this time of his biography, he was “motile” and flexible. From this perspective, pointing to the gendered impact of “motility” is not a trivial matter as it explains, at least in part, the difficulty of female partners to be professionally successful while raising children simultaneously and being on the move for the sake of their partners’ careers. It gives a new perspective, explaining the difference in career achievement between men and women.

I show that the “motile family-strategy” favours the career of one of the partners, very usually the male partner. In fact, those who have reached the very top of these companies are, in most of my empirical cases, those who had followed a “motile family-strategy”. Crossing the interviews with the “objective data” that I collected on the LinkedIn profiles of the respondents confirms this strategy and result. The companies are all big multinational companies employing thousands of people worldwide. Pedro (8.2.1 Prioritising one Career, 227) is the director of the planning and business development of his company, Xavier (8.2.2 Homemaking and Caregiving, 235) is the general manager (CEO), and Richard (8.2.3 Company’s Support, 239) the president of marketing worldwide. In contrast, the ones developing a “local family-strategy” or a “mobile family-strategy”, though they have “good” professional careers, tend not to reach these top positions and stay in the upper tier of middle management. Lynn and Alex, whom I mentioned as being amongst the rare respondents to have successfully developed two professional careers, do not hold these top positions within their employing company (which does not mean they do not have a good income). They are middle managers rather than top managers. Lynn is an account director and Alex a creative designer implying a qualitative difference with the positions ←321 | 322→of Pedro, Xavier, or Richard. In fact, during the interview and in my analysis of Lynn’s narrative (7.3.2 Refusing Motility, 211), she mentions several times that she refused positions abroad at the company headquarters, where she could have continued to compete in order to reach top management positions. The way she explains how she now has another idea of what success means (7.3.1 Ignoring Motility, 208) is striking and contrasts greatly with the narratives of Pedro, Xavier, or Richard. A “traditional” and heteronormative division of the tasks between the partners allows the male “primary-movers” to develop their professional careers. They can accept any opportunity abroad, knowing that the “secondary-mover” will follow and do the care work. In fact, this model is close to that of the bourgeois family at the end of nineteenth century. This type of “family-strategy” not only reproduces the gender hierarchy but also contributes to a successful professional career. For these “primary-movers”, such a strategy is extremely gratifying to one who makes it to the top of the company with the aid of a loving spouse and beautiful children. The ones more careful about their “family-work integration” – who integrate two professional careers – cannot compete because at one point they usually have to refuse an opportunity abroad.

My analysis leaves us with quite a pessimistic result as it shows how the respondents are locked up in seemingly binary choices. For the male partners, it is either a “winner takes all” model, in which they have to focus solely on their work in the labour force in order to compete with colleagues who do the same. Taking more time to help one’s partner with the care work translates to a disadvantage in the labour market, hindering a rise to the top of a company. Thus, they have to choose between success and fairness. For female partners, the choice seems to be between children or professional advancement. Male partners who accept to follow them in a highly motile international career are a rarity. Thus, the concept of “motility” is a central and underused concept to understanding the migration, career, and gender nexus. It explains, in part at least, how some achieve and or give up on professional advancement. This combination is toxic for gender equality. Essentially, this research underlines the gendered impact of frequent migration on “family-strategies”. On a more positive note, research done by the OECD (2012) shows that “family policies” positively affect gender equality between men and women in the labour force. A more important and accessible offer in terms of day care arrangements is a key policy. It has trickle down effects not only on the capacity of the female partners to better coordinate work in the labour force and care work but also on favouring fairer attitudes of the parents when it comes to knowing “who should do the care work”. The context can be changed and the recommendations I develop in the current research go in this direction.