Gender Equality in Expat Assignments

As International Women’s Day is on Thursday 8th March and this blog is for Expat Accompanying Partners (both male and female!), it seems an opportune time to look at gender equality in expat assignments, as well as the progress that still needs to be made.

For those males who followed their partner abroad, a special thought to them for supporting their partners career.

Women make up half the world’s population, however, they are still highly underrepresented in expatriate assignments as well as in in top level executive positions.

Over recent years there has been an increase in women sent abroad, yet women still make up a small percentage of the expat workforce. According to different survey’s, this figure can range from 14% to 20% and 25% if one considers the number of self-initiated expatriate women. 

In our global world, possessing an overseas experience is of growing importance for top level positions in companies with an international focus. If women are already underrepresented in expat assignments, then there are few women “ticking the box” for international work experience. This means women are missing out on a valuable experience for future career development.

Research has shown that the small number of females sent on expatriate assignments may be explained by unconscious biases and stereotyping of women. Biases such as, not seeing a woman in the role, difficultly of her managing a work/life balance, male dominated sectors and women would not want the role.

It is not just men who have unconscious biases towards women, women can also have unconscious bias towards themselves. If women have not historically held a certain function, then without a female role model, women may unconsciously feel that this is a male dominated function and/or sector. This can dissuade women from applying.

Progress needs to be made to encourage and consider more women for expat assignments. Several studies have shown that women are as open as men to these assignments and are as successful. It is also important for women who want an overseas experience to voice their motivation and to be heard.

Consideration and selection of candidates for expatriation should be based on motivation and criteria to effectively fulfill the job requirements, and not on gender stereotyping.

Women who have had an expatriate experience (working or as a non-working Accompanying Partner) can act as role models and be a positive example for women considering an overseas experience. Their return on experience can help others.

Living and working abroad comes with its challenges. However, the skills acquired such as managing local teams, intercultural negotiation, problem solving, and creativity are critical skills necessary for tomorrow’s business leaders.

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