Developing female leaders: Addressing the global mobility gender gap – an insider’s perspective

01 April 2015

By Fiona Richardson, Global Mobility Consultant

#Gender bias in expat programs: are women benefitting from global mobility?

As a female Global Mobility consultant at PwC, I was fortunate to work on a research project focused on understanding the global mobility gender gap,   ‘Developing female leaders: addressing gender bias in global mobility’.  When I began the research project I was surprised to learn that only 1 in 4 global assignees are female – and this statistic hasn’t changed in a decade. While many organizations have increased their focus on gender diversity, it’s had little, if any, impact on female participation in global mobility. The question we should all be asking ourselves is – “why is this the case?”  Our research found that inherent gender bias exists throughout the assignment lifecycle, starting at the recruitment and selection process.   

As I reflect on my own global mobility experience, here are a few contributing factors that made it successful…tips that I’d like to pass along  to other women (and men) interested in a secondment:

1.  Be proactive and vocal about wanting an international experience.  I put myself out there and had conversations with my stakeholders about what I was looking for, and why I thought it would benefit both me and the firm in the long run.  Our research found that assumptions about the availability and willingness of female employees to move overseas can result in viable female candidates being overlooked before the selection process has even begun. Both males and females must drive their own career, and make their managers aware of their desire to work overseas – but our research clearly showed that this is even more important for females.

 2. Find a great mentor to support you.  When asked why females might decline an international assignment, 28.2% cited a lack of role models (compared to just 11.5% of male respondents). I worked with the lead Partner in my group for 18 months to  find an opportunity to work internationally. Opportunities were scarce as the global financial crisis had just hit, but continued persistence combined with my mentor’s extensive global network and contacts, resulted in a great secondment opportunity.  I couldn’t have done it on my own.

 3. Make sure you have a strong organizational foundation to rely on – global mobility policies and procedures (both formal and informal) to support you. There is a need for organisations to implement policies and processes to tackle gender imbalance and other areas of the Diversity agenda in global mobility. Combined with initiatives focused on the diversity agenda (e.g.,. coaching, mentoring, clear recruitment and selection processes just to name a few), there is also a complementary part to play by each individual employee within each organisation to drive their own career and opportunities.  Even with a high level of employee engagement and ambition, policies and processes must be in place first to support individuals, particularly key talent.  For me, having a Coach and Sponsoring Partner available at the end of the phone throughout my assignment was invaluable.  Similar to the women we interviewed for our research, I was concerned about successful repatriation. Thankfully, I was guided throughout the process of locating and securing the right role in my home location that utilized the skills and networks I’d developed while overseas. The support mechanisms PwC has in place throughout the assignment lifecycle (pre-assignment, on-assignment and upon repatriation) solidified my positive experience.   

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With the gender diversity agenda rapidly gaining traction and momentum (through countless examples of why diversity is critical to organizations’ success), it’s apparent that organizations are limiting their potential by not utilizing global mobility more strategically In our report,  nearly 70% of females surveyed noted that an international experience is critical to further their career. Organizations need to understand the key drivers and bias hotspots behind why only such a small percentage of females actually succeed in fulfilling this goal, and work to close the gap.

 To read more about how gender bias in global mobility, visit our new publication, Developing Female Leaders: Addressing Gender Bias in Global Mobility.



Great Blog Fiona! I can absolutely relate!

Hi Fiona, would you have any advice for someone wanting to break into the world of global mobility? I work in Tesco, Belfast, getting into HR, but global mobility particularly interests me as I have travelled extensively and studied languages at university. I have uprooted myself wrote a few times and understand the elements involved. Thanks, Keely


Would you be able to share the survey questions you used?

Kind Regards,
Katie Booth

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