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In today’s global economy, organisations are increasingly keen on expanding overseas, consequently international experience has become a requirement for future leaders. However, estimates suggest that women are still under-represented in the number of international assignees.

Percentage of women in the expat assignment population

There is a high discrepancy between the number of women who want to work overseas and the number of women who actually do: According to PWC: Moving women with purpose, 71% of female millennials want to work abroad but only 20% of the international mobile workforce are women.

Female talent is overlooked: as reported by research from the RES forum, an independent community for International HR & Mobility professionals, 97% of employers have a larger number of male global assignees than female. Why is it that women hold a minority share of global expatriate roles?

The Myths

There are a few myths associated with women and their consideration for international assignments. Some of the most common include: women are not willing to take on an international assignment, they are less likely to settle for the assignment, and there are some countries that women wouldn’t be able to work.

However, data reveals otherwise and debunks those myths with the following: women are more likely to accept an assignment internationally, more women have the intercultural skills required for international success than men, and women can work just as well as men in the countries that are considered more challenging.

As more and more organisations are looking to expand in emerging markets, cross-cultural and international experience are considered critical skills and are increasingly in demand for senior roles now more than ever. The consequences of this will be the inability to challenge attitudes and change the culture that creates barriers to female’s career progression.

Challenging the gender imbalance in global mobility

As stated in the Anatomy of an International Business 2013-14 report, organisations consider women with two or more languages and good networking skills as more suitable for international work.

Mobility drives business success and is an effective way to develop senior talent. These benefits can be realised to their full potential if global mobility and diversity strategies are aligned. Furthermore, it is fundamental that organisations create a culture of international mobility in order to achieve a more gender inclusive mobility programme .

According to PWC , only 49% of women consider that there are not enough female role models in their organisation with successful international assignment experiences. This has a negative impact on global mobility programs and organisations must tackle this by communicating positive international experiences of female assignees.

There are a number of ways to address the gender gap in global relocation.

The Boston Consulting Group suggests the following to ensure both male and female employees have equal opportunities to take on international assignments.

  • Organisations should aim mobility programs at female employees during the primary years of their career, as according to data from the decoding global talent survey on global mobility and employment preferences by the Boston Consulting Group, female (and male) employees are more willing to travel in their 20s.
  • Employers should reach as many women as possible when recruiting for international job assignments by demanding lists that include an equal number of male and female candidates to minimise bias.
  • Organisations should offer mid career women with children tailored logistical support on critical matters such as education and healthcare.
  • Companies could offer multiple opportunities such us short term assignments: 63% of female respondents said that they would prefer an assignment of five years or less. In addition, organisations should understand that international assignments don’t have to be only a one-time experience. Results from the
  • BCG’s survey  revealed that respondents who had worked abroad where more willing to relocate again compared to respondents who had never taken on an international assignments. The willingness was perceived in both women & men however the increase was greater in female respondents; it suggests that experience abroad reduces the perception of mobility challenges.

Moreover, organisations shouldn’t make assumptions on women’s willingness to relocate on the basis of their family situation as data revealed that 44% of women with families are willing to relocate.

Is the prevalence of gender stereotypes having an impact on your organisation’s decision making? Gender inequality awareness within the global mobility industry is increasing, yet action is still required. Given the advantages of gender diversity for organisations and the career opportunities that expatriation brings, organisations must move towards a more gender-inclusive mobility workforce.

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