Have questions? Ask us!

Gender and Global Mobility : Future Leaders Survey Results

Establishing a pathway for potential female senior leaders – why care?

Did you know that it has been estimated that 40% of today’s Fortune 500 companies won’t exist in a decade? To ensure its survival, companies have to maximise the potential of its workforce, its most important resource. An inclusive human resource strategy encompassing a plurality of perspectives and experiences is a must. In particular, firms need a gender diverse global mobility strategy, as a means of developing senior management talent.

This brings us to a pertinent phenomenon – women have the ambition to succeed in the workplace, their drive for their careers equal to men. But there is a clear disparity in gender and global mobility – less than 20% of international assignees are female. Why are they not being included in global mobility opportunities, essential for senior management positions, despite strong demand?

As a global employment service provider assisting companies to enter new global markets, we found that females are severely underrepresented when it comes to overseas working opportunities. Despite all Australian companies (with more than 500 employees) having a diversity policy in place and 60% in agreement that employees are relocated with an intent of talent development, barely one-fifth of employees currently represented by us are women. However, in the last decade, mobile employees have increased by 25%. This dearth of female participation presents a stark problem to companies, as low female global mobility participation undercuts the available leadership talent pool (PwC, 2016) and subsequently, adversely impacts the bottom line of businesses (DDI, 2014).

Our biggest concern is that companies, despite well intentioned diversity strategies, still fail to implement true inclusivity in the workplace, as few female staff are being recognised as worthy candidates for global work opportunities, reducing their eligibility for senior leadership positions.


Should there be equal opportunities to take on an international assignment, female participation rates will equal or outnumber males. For instance, in 2012, 59% of all international students in Australia were female. Obviously when you look at diversity and inclusion within international assignments, Gender and global mobility is just one area however we chose that as our focus because we felt it has the greatest immediate impact.


To deep dive into this pressing issue and analyse what we can do to mitigate it, we collaborated with a fantastic team of MBA students from the University of Sydney, and the latter produced a report with their key findings. The study was undertaken by Andy Almenara, Lilla Kelemen-Toroczkai, Myrophora Koureas and Evan Zhang who are completing the MBA Program at The University of Sydney Business School. The student work was supervised by Associate Professor Rae Cooper and Jane Counsel.

The report included the MBA Future Leaders Survey, where three quarters of respondents were current students enrolled in the University of Sydney’s MBA programme. One may question – why was this particular group selected?  These millennial students were specifically selected and sampled as being representative of emerging leaders of the future workforce, and their experiences and perspectives of work are markedly different from their predecessors. Also, most discourse on global mobility revolves around the perspectives of industry practitioners and employees already present in the global mobility arena. This gave us the opportunity to look at it from another angle.

To formulate the questions, the team reviewed questions from ShieldGEO’s survey distributed through LinkedIn and the Forum For Expatriate Management, as well as reports from leading consulting firms.


Key insights on the gender bias: What did we discover?

Key insights from the MBA Future Leaders Survey show that global mobility in the workplace matters. In total, 47% of respondents believed that men and women do not have equal opportunities to undertake international assignments, and more than three quarters perceived an international assignment to be important for career progression. Almost all respondents (a whopping 92%) saw organizations which offered international assignments as being able to retain high performing employees.

Another major disparity we observed between the viewpoints of the two genders was in relation to equal opportunities for overseas assignments. Only 29% of females believed that men and women had equal opportunities, but 76% of male respondents felt that both genders had an equal shot for global work opportunities.


When requested to rate barriers, both genders selected the same barriers, but ranked them slightly differently. While women may often be stereotyped as choosing not to venture overseas due to family, family life weighed heavily for both genders – 70% and 72% of men and women respectively felt it was a barrier. However, males felt that partner support was their highest ranked barrier (74%), while on the other hand, women felt that the lack of opportunities from their organizations were the biggest deciding factor (73%).


The survey also shows that women and men largely prefer the same locales for assignment, debunking the belief that only women avoided particular destinations. The top three destinations for both genders were Canada, USA, and United Kingdom. The three least preferred destinations for women were Saudi Arabia (which has regulations requiring females to have a male sponsor for entry into the country), India and Mexico, while men least preferred to work at the Philippines, Mexico, and India.


One trend that came up strongly within both genders is that these future leaders would take matters into their own hands if they wanted to work in a different country, including leaving their current employment to move countries. One of the dangers for companies who don’t offer these opportunities to women is that they will leave the organisation to take an available overseas opportunity or reaching out to another employer.

Addressing the gender gap in global mobility

What’s next for ShieldGEO and other stakeholders?

The analysis shows that there is much more that can be done to help women have more access to that highly sought after seat in the boardroom, and for companies to achieve a more equitable gender balance.

As a company well connected to stakeholders in the global mobility industry, we would like to start the ball rolling by initiating conversations about gender in relation to global mobility, and facilitating these discussions as we gain more traction. Conversations may take place via a variety of literature and platforms, be it through blog and social media posts, white papers, as well as presenting case studies and deep dive analyses of pertinent themes during industry-relevant conferences such as the Forum For Expatriate Management. These will help to increase visibility on the gender disparity issue in Global Mobility and raise awareness on its implications.

Industry associations with vested interests in gender equality in the workplace can also help to uncover business biases accompanying their needs through a variety of academia, including white papers and roundtable discussions with stakeholders. Reporting requirements may also be spurred in organisations to reflect gender diversity.

By championing diversity in the global mobility industry with the aid of student and industry associations and partners, we hope to close or help bridge the gender gap in global mobility.

What can you do?

Hiring managers and human resource officials have a pressing need to make changes, as the lack of international assignments for females negatively impacts their diversity strategy. Within the organization, it is a definite must to build a consensus for change, among all parties, including senior management (who may have a hand behind who receives a seat at the boardroom), hiring managers, and prospective candidates.

More importantly, this includes changing mindsets and processes. The benefits of gender equality on global mobility are numerous and should be demonstrated to stakeholders. Senior officials can uncover their own biases through roundtables, white papers, and working closely with industry associations.

With the lack of role models cited as one of the key reasons why assignments are rejected by females, interactions with potential mentors and sponsors through formal or informal company events and programmes are highly encouraged. These role models of either genders can also be highlighted within the organisation – by raising their profiles, more females will have a more convenient and direct point of contact if more information is required, and ideally be inspired to undertake an overseas assignment themselves.

More information has to be made accessible to females, if wish to accomplish our goal to have them take part in global work assignments. To do so, recruitment and global mobility selection procedures and criteria have to be made known to all. Having a formal set of procedures publicly disseminated conveniently and early on, be it through the staff intranet or outlined in a staff workbook given out during orientation, would be beneficial in making international assignments more fair.

Lastly, high potential leaders should be identified promptly, and groomed to take on more responsibilities for transitioning to a senior position, all in good time. After all, many females have indicated their interest for global assignments earlier in their careers, and short term secondments for juniors can prepare them for longer assignments if or when the opportunity strikes.


Having a good diversity strategy does not stop at recruitment of diverse talent, but also ensuring that throughout the corporate hierarchy, especially at the top, there is equitable representation of different demographics. A company’s workforce is ideally representative of the broader population at large. One major step to achieving this is through stronger female representation for global opportunities, to carve out senior leadership pathways.

There is certainly more that stakeholders can accomplish, be it the decision makers in organisations, industry associations, and of course global mobility companies like ourselves. In time to come, we hope to bridge the gender gap in global mobility, and aid companies in developing diverse senior leadership talent.

Read our other articles on Gender and Global Mobility here:

Gender and Global Mobility: Why Should We Be Talking About It? 
Gender Disparity in International Assignments

Trailing Spouses and their Impact on Gender Diversity
How are Countries Treating Male and Female Expatriates Differently?
Mending the Gender Gap

We want to explore the reasons behind who gets selected for an assignment. In particular, what role does Global Mobility play?We could use your help in a big way if you contributed to this 5 minute anonymous survey. so we can have a better idea of how our industry can get more women on international assignments. 

 Need more information about employing in a new country? Learn more about:

Looking for a better way to employ someone in a new country? Get in touch.

Related Articles

Join 5000+ employers managing overseas employees

Subscribe for tips on hiring and managing international workers!