Women in Global Mobility and Leadership are Rising But Not as Fast

A study done by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) a few years ago pointed to how 71% of female millennials want to work abroad during their career, but only 20% of the internationally mobile population are women. Since then, though, studies have proven that global mobility strategies today don’t reach their full potential if they don’t wholly include women.

Even without an extensive update on the study, the rise of women in the global mobility landscape is evident. Women are taking on leadership roles — and the boardroom. 

Several factors have played a vital role in empowering women and enabling their rise in the global mobility landscape. One of the main factors is the advancement of technology and the rise of remote work. Today, women have the flexibility to pursue international opportunities without sacrificing their personal or family lives.

Global People Transitions cited two global mobility professionals — Sarah Johnson, a corporate executive who has successfully led global teams in the technology sector and Anna Rodriguez, an entrepreneur who founded her own international consulting firm. 

Johnson recalls facing initial skepticism and gender bias, but her determination and expertise have earned her the respect and admiration of her peers. Rodriguez, on the other hand, built a successful business that helps companies expand globally.

Not as fast

More women are making their way into the boardroom, but the pace of change is not as fast. Since the previous report of Deloitte Insights, though, the amount of board seats held by women has increased by only 3.6 percentage points.  

I’m encouraged by some of the latest numbers—like the steady increase in women holding seats on committees and boards—but there’s always room for improvement. The percentage of female board chairs and chief executive officers is still hovering in the single digits, making it understandably difficult for women to see themselves in those roles. 

There is still a lot of work needed for women to reach gender parity in leadership. Global mobility professionals will need to take steps to recruit and retain more women and continue to bolster the ripple effect that follows.

The 2016 PwC study revealed that women felt this disparity; they were 19% less likely than their male peers to believe that men and women had equal opportunities to undertake international assignments with their current employer back then. 

Organizations held outworn beliefs in 2016 that women with children didn’t want to work abroad. Quite the contrary. About 41% of the women who said they wanted to accept an international assignment were parents, compared with 40% of men.

Meanwhile, men consider women’s concern of putting their partners’ higher-salary income at risk as the second highest barrier to female mobility (27%). Of the female respondents to this research, 82% that are in a relationship are part of a dual career couple, and 77% of those earn equal to or more than their partner or spouse. This higher income risk may well be a challenge when deploying women, but it will be equally challenging when deploying men. 

Need to identify barriers

To overcome the barriers to more gender-inclusive mobility, international employers must first identify and understand the actual – not assumed – barriers confronting them. Using data analytics to gain a clear view of their current mobility and wider workforce demographics, and the mobile readiness of their workforce will be crucial; combining these enhanced data analytics with process and behavioral interventions to address any uncovered barriers are all critical steps for achieving gender-inclusive mobility. 

Faced with the fast-changing workforce demographics, though, global mobility strategies require companies to fully include women as decision makers to succeed.   

Today, female talent matters more than ever: female millennials, for example, are more highly educated and are entering the workforce in larger numbers than any of their previous generations. Employers cannot afford to miss out on this significant and growing talent pool. 

About 64% percent of women said opportunities to undertake international assignments were critical in attracting them to, and keeping them with an employer. 

To be successful in attracting, hiring and retaining female talent, it’s imperative that global organizations have a talent brand that incorporates international experience as a core part of their employee value proposition. 

Growth driver 

Done well, global mobility is a positive driver of business success and a powerful way to develop senior leadership talent. However, these benefits will not be realized if global mobility strategies are operationalised in a silo. 

Only 22% of global mobility leaders said their organizations’ mobility and diversity strategies were aligned, and the same low proportion – 22% – said they were actively trying to increase their female international mobile populations. Yet, as many as 69% of global mobility leaders agree they move employees to develop their succession pipeline of future leaders. 

The way many organizations currently manage global mobility is characterized by a significant number of diversity disconnects. Global mobility, diversity and talent strategies must converge to support the successful realization of global business and people strategies. 

A culture of mobility

Creating a culture of global mobility will be necessary to achieving more gender-inclusive mobility, yet 57% of global mobility leaders said their organizations don’t articulate an expectation of global mobility to their key talent populations. 

To instill and embed such a culture, international employers will need to clearly articulate an expectation of global mobility to their employees; visibly share the positive international experiences of past and current assignees; ensure their international opportunities are transparent; and actively seek out opportunities.