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Global Mobility Gender Gap: How do you compare?

Matthew MacLachlan

22 May 2017

We have a female British Prime Minister, a female German Chancellor and seven female CEOs leading FTSE 100 companies. Times have certainly changed – for the better. The world of global mobility, however, seems to have stubbornly remained the same for the last twenty years. Despite initiatives from many organisations the global mobility gender gap remains.  Why are there so few women undertaking an international assignment and what can companies do to address this gap?

Global Mobility Gender Gap: How Can it be Reduced? 

 PWC Survey reported that employees see international experience as an important step to leadership positions.  The New York Times agrees, noting that nearly 40% of CFOs have lived and worked overseas.

But Where Are the Female Expatriates?

The same PWC survey highlighted a significant gender gap.  Although 70% of females are willing to work abroad, only 25% of employees doing so are female.  If women are to benefit from an international assignment and the increased opportunity to climb the corporate ladder, something needs to change. Several strategies were offered to close the gender gap.

1. Timing

It is important to set expectations early in a woman’s career.  Just as critically, it is important to ensure that employers consider women as suitable candidates for an international assignment early in their career as well.  Having this dialogue early on also shows the female employee that she is valued and the employer is committed to her career.

The importance of the assignment location is greater than the duration of the assignment

2. Engagement

In the modern work environment, employee loyalty might be a scarce commodity.  However, for those women who are committed to their employer, the acceptance of an international assignment increases.  Loyalty also pays off upon the assignee’s return, reducing the chances of accepting a job offer from another employer.

3. Location

PWC also report that the importance of the assignment location is greater than the duration of the assignment.  Employers who learn what motivates their female employees to accept an assignment in one location but reject an assignment in another location will increase their chances of placing women on an expatriate assignment.

4. Role Model

Like men, many women look to a role model or mentor they can learn from.  In the case of women considering an international assignment, organisations who do not have a past history of sending many women abroad may wish to encourage dialogue with women from other organisations who have successfully completed a foreign assignment, ideally in the same country or region.

Finding the way to genuinely support female expatriates – and their families, where applicable – can make a difference between a successful and unsuccessful assignment.

5. Dual Careers

Some women are single; many women are not.  Organisations who offer an expatriate assignment have long needed to consider the secondee’s partner and family.  These traditional relocations have usually involved a male employee with a female partner who was willing or able to relocate more readily.  She may have sacrificed her career; some other women did not have a career to leave behind.  Today’s world is very different; a secondee’s partner is more likely to have a career, particularly a career woman’s husband.  Looking after women’s families, including the dual career issue, is more important than ever.

6. Support Networks

Men enjoy career-long support networks. Women profit from support networks at least as much as men but usually have weaker support systems.  Some women have none at all.  Finding a way to genuinely support female expatriates – and their families, where applicable – can make a difference between a successful and unsuccessful assignment.

7. Repatriation

Female assignees may feel the need to plan not only for their expatriate assignment but also their return to their original job location.  Preparing for repatriation early in the process can reinforce the woman’s perception of her long-term value to the organisation.  It can also help in the case of a less successful secondment.  The price of ignoring this can be high.  PWC found that 44% of employees leave their employer within two years of returning home.

The global mobility gender gap needs to be closed. An international assignment forms the cornerstone of many a successful business career that can ultimately reach a C-suite appointment. If we want to see more women in the higher echelons of power then we need to see more female international assignees.

In conclusion, having a good expatriate plan for a prospective female assignee who feels valued and knows what to expect before, during and after the assignment, alongside solid support for the female assignee and her family, is the key to success.  This is equally the same for men…