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Mending the Gender Gap

In our previous articles, we examined why the gender gap in mobility has occurred, why it matters, and how it is applicable in different countries. In this article, we will explore strategies on mending the gender gap.

Companies looking to globalize their businesses have to consider gender diversity in their senior management or board. To capture and retain females in leadership, mobility opportunities have to be offered to them or their career progression would be hindered. To overcome the gender gap in mobility, here are some strategies companies may deploy:

“Start early, start small” – Identifying high performing female professionals early in their careers

A PwC study, titled “Developing Female Leaders”, revealed that a substantial number of women have cited interest in having international exposure in the first six years of their careers. Women are also more likely to take up assignments earlier in their career than men, with the balance changing at around age 40.

To increase female participation in mobility, companies may consider identifying high performing women at junior levels, and send them for short term assignments to allow them to experience a small taste of what it is like working overseas. This could better prepare the employee for a longer term secondment, which would be crucial for the later parts of her career. Moreover, having international exposure early on in one’s career enhances their employability, and sets them apart in an increasingly competitive labour market.

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Increasing awareness among leaders on unintended gender bias, and formalising recruitment procedures 

As mentioned in our previous article, unconscious gender bias due to assumptions about female expats result in them being sidelined for international assignments. To overcome this, companies can develop processes and/or training to ensure gender neutrality and objectivity when selecting international assignees.

For instance, Telstra is setting in place a new centralized talent database containing data on each employee, including skills, location, experience, and academic background, and more importantly, their interest in international assignments. This approach would allow managers to more objectively select those who are most inclined for a certain overseas posting.

Building engagement

While it is increasingly rare for an employee to spend their entire career at one or two companies only, engagement and loyalty among employees would result in a greater likelihood of employees’ willingness to take on an international assignment. This is particularly true for females, rather than for men, according to PwC. A loyal employee would also be more likely to stay in the company upon repatriation.

Championing strong female mentorship  

With a lack of role models cited as a top reason for declination of overseas job assignments, championing high profile, successful female expats could be advantageous to a company looking to engage females for international postings. While having a role model or mentor available for consult regarding a potential job posting overseas is useful, it is also important for the female assignee to have a coach on site at the host country.

Robust spousal support system

One of the factors listed by a female expat for assignment satisfaction is the adjustment of a spouse to the host country. To ease the transition, robust spousal support systems, including the arrangement of necessary paperwork such as work visa arrangements, career counselling (if a different career is to be undertaken) and support networks for expat spouses, would be beneficial.

Formalising repatriation processes

Another major concern of women considering to undertake an international assignment would be the repatriation process, especially if there is no guarantee there will be a suitable job encompassing her new skillsets and networks upon her return. Ensuring proper repatriation is important, as PwC found that 44% of employees left the organization within two years of heading home.

As such, establishing and enforcing formal repatriation processes prior to the assignment (or a suitable number of months prior to repatriation), with the help of an experienced mentor, could ease some of this concern. This could also help the company increase its retention rate for its assignees.

Telstra, for example, has implemented a structured repatriation program for its international assignees, enabling employees to receive support from its Telstra Career Centre 12 months prior to repatriation, to discuss relevant opportunities and commence working on a plan that would allow the employee to harness the new skills and experience garnered overseas.

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Check out the second part of our series on Gender and Global Mobility. It features an extensive study undertaken by Andy Almenara, Lilla Kelemen-Toroczkai, Myrophora Koureas, Evan Zhang who are students completing the MBA Program at The University of Sydney Business School.  The student work was supervised by Associate Professor Rae Cooper and Jane Counsel.

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. 

The information in this article is subject to changes in local legislation.

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