Women Expats

We’ve all read that the percentage of women in leadership roles who accept international assignments is dramatically lower than their male counterparts.  However, recent surveys and research indicate that women do, in fact, want to work abroad. What are some of the reasons that women do not go overseas? How can your company support women who are interested in doing so?
PWC, in association with the Centre for Ethical Leadership at The University of Melbourne,  explored how gender bias affects global mobility in Australia.  Over 100 male and female expatriates completed an in-depth survey. Some of the key findings include:

  • Seven out of ten female employees want to work outside their home country, yet only 1 in 4 expatriates are female.
  • Nearly half of females on assignment are single, whereas 70 percent of male assignees are married.
  • Nearly half of the women surveyed were concerned about the impact of repatriation on their careers.
  • Over half of the respondents’ roles were filled through employees initiating the opportunity, or using their networks and informal communication.
  • 28 percent of surveyed females cited a lack of role models as a reason for declining an assignment.

Assumptions made by both home and host country management about availability, suitability and willingness of female candidates were also seen as significant factors in the underrepresentation of females on assignment.
Organizations that increase female participation in global mobility benefit from developing and retaining female talent, and the rewards that come from diverse leadership teams. Creating  strategies and policies that address this range of employee concerns is a key step.  It ensures greater numbers of female employees with leadership development opportunities, great professional and personal experiences, and positive returns on investment.
Ernst & Young is one company that is championing women in leadership.  In a recent ERC Global Symposium session, EY shared that currently 38% of its assignees are women, and 48% of all staff is female.  

EY also has progressive policies when it comes to flexibility for parenting, for both men and women.  Certain biases are sometimes sticking points surrounding women expats — for example, assuming that a young mother would not be interested in an international assignment. EY believes that flexible assignment types and slightly shorter stints abroad may be two ways that assignments become more palatable to women and families.  These solutions also foster a global mindset and offer a range of modular assignment types, short-term and virtual work.

Assignees at EY are partly self-identified, which PWC also found in their study.   Creating a global mobility pipeline is another way to support women in the process.

Companies can start by creating a strategy and policy that ensure mobility is equally accessible and attractive to both women and men. Developing and retaining female talent has a positive impact on the diversity of their future leadership teams.