The gender distribution in the population of international assignees is not equal, with men taking a larger share of assignments than women.
Fact or Fiction?
The statement that men are taking more international assignments than women is a fact.
The 2010 Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Survey respondents indicated that only 17% of expatriates were female and that this has been a long-term trend with a historical average of 16%.
Similarly, based on the 2010 Global Mobility Policy & Practices Survey the gender distribution has remained stable, with women representing a much smaller share of international assignees than men.
Source: 2010 Global Mobility Policy & Practices Survey
What could explain this gender imbalance? Are women less willing to work as expatriates? Or are they simply offered fewer assignment opportunities?
Research suggests that in reality, there are as many female as male candidates (Tyler, 2001); women desire international assignments as much as men (Selmer, 2001), and female expatriates are as successful as males are (Caligiuri and Tung, 1999). This indeed implies that the smaller number of female expats results from a gap between the number of females willing, ready and competent to be expatriated, and the number of assignments actually offered to women.
The question of female under-representation in international assignments was first addressed in Nancy Adler’s research (1984, 1987). Adler found stereotypes related to gender and occupation to play the primary role. First, a widely held but unsubstantiated belief is that women may not wish to work internationally, which in turn reduces the number of international relocations offered to women. A second myth is that men in the host country do not wish to do business with women (Caligiuri, Joshi & Lazarova, 1999). Beyond these stereotypes, there are biases that favour men over women in overall performance evaluations. These biases result in women being perceived to be less competent and therefore lead to an unequal selection of candidates for international assignments (Connerley, Mecham & Strauss, 2008).
Adler, N.J. (1984). Women do not want international careers: and other myths about international management. Organizational Dynamics, 13 (2), 66-79.
Adler, N. J. (1987). Pacific Basin Managers: A Gaijin, Not a Woman. Human Resource Management, 26, 169–191.
Caligiuri, P.M., Joshi, A., & Lazarova, M. (1999). Factors influencing the adjustment of women on global assignments. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 10 (2), 163-179.
Caligiuri, P.M., & Tung, R.L. (1999). Male and female expatriates’ success in masculine and feminine countries. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 10 (2), 163-79.
Connerley, M., Mecham, R., & Strauss, J. (2008). Gender Differences in Leadership Competencies, Expatriate Readiness, and Job Performance. Gender in Management: An International Journal, 23 (5), 300-316.
Selmer, J. (2001). Expatriate selection: back to basics? International Journal of Human Resource Management, 12, 1219-33.
Tyler, K. (2001). Focus on global HR management: don’t fence her in. HR Magazine, 46 (3), 70-7.