Diversity is a cornerstone in today’s globalized world. In the current global political arena, diversity seems to be a source of social unrest and heated debate. Yet, in the global business world there is a solid consensus on the benefits of and need for diversity. Both practitioners and researchers seem to agree that cultural, racial, age and gender diversity translate into business value. However, in spite of this knowledge and potential business value, many still struggle with implementing it. One of the consistent diversity gaps relates to gender inequality, where females are consistently underrepresented in both, management teams and pools of international assignees. Specifically in respect to the latter, PWC professionals argue that ‘the way many organizations currently manage global mobility is characterized by a significant number of diversity disconnects’. Indeed, several industry surveys (incl. Brookfield, Cartus, PWC, Santa Fe) indicate that only about 20% of international assignees are female. After further exploration of the gender diversity topic in global mobility, PWC recently released the Moving Women with Purpose report. Here I highlight some of the important findings.
- Female demand for global mobility has never been higher
Currently women constitute a growing talent pool, as they are more educated and enter the job market at higher rates than ever before. According to PWC data, women are not only more visible in the job market in general; they are also active seekers of opportunities for global mobility. 71% of respondents stated their desire to work outside their home country during their career, and 84% of surveyed women believe that international experience is critical for career prospects. Given such attitudes, the low number of actual female assignees seems even more surprising. Hence, what are the barriers?
- ‘Men are easier to move than women’ is an outdated belief
The PWC data challenge some of the outdated beliefs that may constitute the barriers for female mobility. For example, the notion that women with children do not want to relocate is our unconscious bias and assumed belief rather than reality. Out of all the women, who identified the will to undertake an international assignment, 41% are parents, compared with 40% of men. Thus, it is not to say that children are not a barrier, it is rather to realize that it is as big or small of a barrier for both, men and women. Indeed, the data also showed that men and women equally agree (70%) that the best time for an international assignment is before having children.
Another outdated assumption relates to falling for traditional gender roles and seeing men as breadwinners, implying that female expatriation would put their partners’ higher income at risk. In reality, the majority of surveyed women (82%) were in a dual-career couple, and 77% reported to earn equal to or more than their partner or spouse. Hence, dual-career barriers might be a challenge again for both, be it deploying men or women. The PWC data support this assumption, as 20% of women and 19% of men spoke of spouses’ higher salary as a risk for their own mobility.
- Women themselves perceive a lack of female role models
51% of women do not feel that there are enough female role models of successful international assignees. Moreover women, together with global mobility leaders, cite it as the second biggest barrier to their mobility. As the PWC professionals put it, the expression ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ could be the right catalyst for more efforts in making female leaders and international assignees visible. Naturally, an increase in female assignees itself is needed to produce more role models, but companies should also purposefully highlight successful expatriation stories of already existing female expats.
- A mobility readiness assessment of the workforce is largely missing
Finally, global mobility professionals perceive a lack of understanding of the mobility readiness of their workforce as the number one barrier to gender inclusive mobility. Indeed, a lack of such overview makes the previously discussed, and quite possibly outdated, assumptions even more powerful. Without any knowledge of who is willing and ready to go overseas, global mobility leaders and managers may rather propose such opportunities to potential ‘stereotypical expats’, hence men. As per the report data, only 25% of global mobility professionals have such a roster of the mobile ready population. On a positive note, this is a process shortcoming, which can be relatively easy to correct by implementing corresponding evaluations within employee development practices.
All in all, it seems that global mobility is at a point where the awareness of gender inequality is already quite high, yet required action is strongly lagging. Indeed, only 22% of the surveyed global mobility professionals indicated that they are ‘actively trying to increase our female international mobile pipeline’. It is probably hard to argue that the gender diversity issue, with its long lasting gaps, is a matter that can’t be improved by itself, following the logic of ‘time heals everything’…