A 2020 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices report by Mercer showed female assignees represent 11 percent of the international assignees in 2015, 14 percent in 2017 and still only 20 percent in 2020.1
This is a positive trend, but what more can companies do to help women apply for and accept employer-sponsored international assignments? This is vital since companies continue to suggest global mobility and international work experience are significant factors for future career growth.
Motivation and Perception
An AXA Global Healthcare’s World of Work Report found men and women don’t always share the same motivations for taking international assignments:2
- 51 percent of men expats believe experiences working overseas accelerated their career; only 39 percent of women expats agree.
- 43 percent of men expats feel international assignments enabled them to become regional experts and increased their professional value to current and future employers; only 36 percent of women agree.
In some cultures, a managers’ personal bias may influence candidate selection for international assignments due to myths that:
- Men may have more of resilience for international postings;
- Women may not be seen as equals to male counterparts in some cultures; and/or
- Women may not likely be interested because of family/partner obligations.
“Certainly, some women may turn down an assignment because it could disrupt their family or dual-income partner’s lives,” writes cultural trainer and communication coach Vanessa Paisley. In contrast, Paisley writes, “men tend to think about this later, once culture shock’s set in.”3
Unconscious bias training can help avoid discriminating against candidates based on personal perceptions or social norms. Lauren Herring, CEO of IMPACT Group, a provider of career and leadership services, urges organizations to look at the systems that support implicit biases: “Create expectations for leaders to discuss career goals with all team members, highlighting relocation as a career accelerator in one on ones, career conversations and even performance reviews.”
Despite more companies widening international assignment candidate talent pools, some women employees – especially single mothers, those in non-traditional families or dual-income families – may feel excluded from opportunities. To help their confidence applying for assignments, companies are encouraged to:
- Create career plans;
- Use in-house mentor programs; and
- Provide leadership training.
“Reducing barriers for dual-career couples can increase interest in international assignments,” says Herring. She recommends including spouse/partner employment counseling as a core benefit: “When women have greater confidence that not only their career, but their partner’s career can flourish as well during and following an international experience, they may be more likely to raise their hand.”
It’s easy to forget that diversity initiatives may be lacking in certain countries, and this can be daunting for some women, but common myths and misconceptions may also hold women back from international assignment opportunities.
For instance, consider a few popular myths about Dubai that persist including women are required to be completely covered during their stay, are not allowed to work or drive or must use women-only cabins on the city’s metro. Gender equality has become a top priority in the United Arab Emirates and initiatives have been taken to improve women’s lives. Most women who live and work in diverse Dubai on international assignments have reported positive experiences and perceive the location safer in many ways than conditions in their home country.4
All companies today have an opportunity to identify women candidates with the confidence and commitment for working in destinations where many may have turned down going on assignment to before. As part of a company’s relocation assistance programs, both pre-departure education and on-the-ground intercultural training programs are highly recommended. Once individuals understand local laws and/or cultural expectations, they typically have fewer issues accepting international assignments, adapting to the location and thriving.
But There’s More…
An Allianz Care report suggests helping upper management understand the unique benefits women may provide in expat roles – including different points of view and enhanced communication skills – versus male counterparts. 5
After all, global work experience and intercultural training for women is not only an investment in an employee’s career path, but in the sponsoring company’s success too.
Certainly, progress has been made in this area, but more can be done by offering meaningful, unique support and by breaking down ingrained myths and preconceptions.
About NEI Global
Headquartered in the U.S. with regional offices in Switzerland and Singapore, NEI Global (www.neirelo.com) is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise and full service, global relocation and assignment management company that partners with clients to relocate their employees across the globe. NEI’s clients include many Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 corporations and we supported our clients’ supplier diversity goals last year with diverse suppliers. In 2020, 2021 and 2022, NEI dominated results of the Trippel Survey & Research Annual Relocation Manager’s Survey © – Relocation Management Companies.
Article by Thomas Paton, GMS, Senior & Special Projects Writer, NEI Global Relocation