The Gender Imbalance of Global Mobility

Weve seen increased awareness of gender equality in recent years from opportunities, to flexibility to levels of pay. However when it comes to being involved with international relocations, only 20% maximum of assignees are female.


In fact, the 2020 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices states that an average of 20% of the global expatriate workforce is female. (The figure varies between continents.) It is also interesting to note that research shows that women are more likely to remain working abroad. A higher percentage of men return home when an assignment ends. So why does global mobility have such a gender imbalance?

There are four possible reasons to consider, reports Learnlight:

1. Global Organisations Profile

Women are underrepresented in global mobility. This could be due to the structure of the international workforce, along with preconceptions about female employees’ willingness to travel, adapt and handle the isolation (from friends and family) often associated with relocation.

2. Family

“It’s important to consider the impact of international relocation upon the partners, children and other dependants as well as the individuals themselves,” says Louise Chilcott, Global Move Specialist at BTR International. “Relocation support packages need to be truly flexible. This means recognising social trends, such as the majority of single parents being women, and adapting to this… what does this mean for support requirements when relocating abroad?”

3. Unconscious Cultural Biases

Some cultures are perceived as not viewing females as equal to men. Organisations already based in these countries may assess that it would be easier for a male assignee to fit into the role and local culture. Less understandable is the belief that men are more likely to ‘have what it takes’ to handle starting a role in a foreign country and that women are less resilient. Learnlight responds to this bias: “Such beliefs reflect a business culture that makes decisions for women based on an ingrained perception. While these unconscious biases are easily debunked on our social media feeds, they still inform the system in which we all operate.

“To update the system will require proactive decision makers. Rather than assuming women are not resilient enough, why not search internally for resilient women? If the assignment is in a country where women have different rights, then you have the opportunity to identify a woman with the confidence, courage and commitment to accept this challenge – all great qualities which are likely to make her successful in the role.”

4. The Need for Female Role Models

Proactive decision-making and careful internal searches for international assignees would encourage more women to get involved. They would become successful role models for other female employees interested in global mobility and slowly the balance would become more even.

“Many female assignees have achieved success in international roles,” says Louise. “Recognising their achievements and ensuring equal opportunities for everyone will organisations and their employees to make the most of the global assignments available.”

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