Last updated 1 August 2016

High Aspirations Unfulfilled in Female Global Mobility


According to the recent ‘Modern Mobility: Moving Women with Purpose’ report released by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), only 20 per cent of the current internationally mobile population is female. The low number juxtaposes against the strikingly high demand observed by the research where 71 per cent of female millennials are keen on overseas working opportunities. The research surveyed a total of 134 global mobility executives and 3,937 professionals from over 40 countries. Out of the professionals, 2,285 are females.

In an exclusive interview with the Lead Researcher and Author, Expatfinder talks to Aoife Flood about what the findings mean for employers and the global mobility market. Ms. Flood is also a Senior Manager of PwC’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Programme Office.

Root causes

Both women and global mobility executives have identified the lack of female role models as one of their top three barriers creating the underrepresentation of women in global mobility. Geographically, women in Africa (39 per cent) were least likely to agree that there were enough female role models with successful international assignment experiences, followed by women in Europe (46 per cent). Interestingly, the role model gap is much smaller in South America, with 66 per cent of women agreeing there are enough female role models.

With 60 per cent of global mobility leaders concurring that they move employees to develop future leaders, females are potentially at risk of being underrepresented in the management. It does not help either that only 22 per cent of global mobility executives were actively trying to increase their number of female assignees.

The gender inequality in the corporate world has always been widely debated, but is it really about bias? Ms. Flood explained that there are deeper, underlying causes, with findings from the report.

“Some of these are process barriers – for example, very few organisations have a real-time understanding of which of their employees are willing and ready to be internationally mobile.  All talent – men and women – will have times in their career when they have a green light or a red light for global mobility, but without this type of real-time data organisations risk selecting the ‘wrong’ talent or ‘overlooking’ the right talent who are mobile ready in their organisations.” 

Additionally, the report suggests that gender stereotypes may be at play. There is almost an equal amount of men and women with children, at around 40 per cent, who would like to undertake an international assignment. Though 40 per cent of fathers have been able to do so, it was only 17 per cent for mothers.

We see an aspirations and reality gap, which begs the question – do women with children not want to undertake international assignments, as it is often assumed, or are they not being offered such opportunities? Certainly, there will be times that mothers, for example, after the birth of a new child, will be less likely to want to undertake an international assignment – but this is likely to be the very same for new fathers.

Not all that different

On international mobility preferences, the report drew several parallels between men and women.

  • 74 per cent of women and men said global mobility in the first six years of the career was the most preferential time to undertake an international assignment.
  • 70 per cent of men and women said before starting a family and 65 per cent of men and women said before having eldercare responsibilities.
  • Among six types of international mobility experience, both men and women also identified long-term assignments of one to five years as their top wish list.

Opportunity untapped, Possible strategies

Global mobility is surfaced as a vital attraction and retention tool. The same number of female professionals – 64 per cent - said that the opportunity to undertake a global mobility experience was critical in not only attracting them to join their employer but also, to stay in the company as well.

Organisations will need to explore ways to provide millennial talent with the international opportunities they are seeking, be that through international assignments, international exposure or other possibilities such as working on international virtual teams,Ms. Flood urged.

With demographic shifts such as the rise in dual-career couples and increasing eldercare responsibilities due to an ageing population, the report stresses the need for flexibility in mobility packages and duration.

Out of the top four professional concerns highlighted by females on mobility assignments, three involve repatriation. Simple measures such as allocation of a mentor in the home firm were recommended to mitigate concerns over the potential negative impact on career prospects upon repatriation. However, only 26 per cent of the women were currently given such support.

On gender-inclusivity, Ms. Flood said, International employers must first identify and understand the actual – not assumed – barriers confronting them. Critical steps for companies seeking to achieve gender inclusive mobility include using data analytics to gain a clear view of their current mobility and wider workforce demographics, and then combining the resulting insights with process and behavioural interventions to overcome barriers.

Read more at the full report here.


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