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the travails of a trailing spouse

It’s sometimes hard to reconcile the progressive policies of the State Department with the antiquated reality of life in the Foreign Service. We work for a government that defends the human rights of LGBT individuals, supports increased access and inclusion for people with disabilities, and promotes gender equality abroad, yet somehow still expects the majority of its employees to have stay-at-home spouses. Small wonder that spousal employment is the top preoccupation for Foreign Service Officers – the opportunities are so few and the hurdles so numerous that few FSO spouses manage to sustain a meaningful professional career.

One of the main challenges for spouses of Foreign Service Officers is that unless one tele-works it is virtually impossible to maintain continuity of employment. While the FSO arrives at each new post with a job that fits into his or her career path, FSO spouses are forced to start the job search afresh with each new assignment. One may have a great job at one post and find that there is no prospect of similar employment at the next. Even when a spouse does manage to find satisfactory employment, he or she is often forced to start at square one in terms of salary history, accumulated vacation, and other benefits that mark the difference between holding a series of jobs and having a steady career.

The State Department gives preference for some positions to “eligible family members” (EFMs), but these jobs come with a myriad different hiring mechanisms, and how one is hired frequently effects prospects for future employment more than the job one is hired to do. Moreover, because the wheels of bureaucracy move lethargically, it’s often advantageous to apply for a job or request training even when one is already employed, with the hope of improving one’s chances of landing a job at a future post. Thus, even though S’s job at CDC was nominally in her field, it made sense for her to continue pursuing other options…

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