International Assignments – the Glass Border

by May 8, 20163Plus, Personal & Professional Development

International assignments are part of the old boys club

International assignments for women have historically been thin on the ground; so much so that the gender difference was named the “glass border” by Mandelker in 1994. 20 plus years later and you’d think the situation might have changed. But, like women on boards and the persistent gender pay gap, the number of women being relocated internationally by their companies remains stubbornly low at 20%.

international assignments

International assignments for women – the glass border

The lack of female role models in globally mobile positions and the perception that there will not be adequate support to succeed while abroad and when repatriating have been deterrents for women considering international assignments as part of their overall career development. Read: 4 ways to fast track your career with international experience

Culture is another perceived barrier for women. Some cultures are less supportive of women, so organisations avoid sending women there for fear they cannot be effective. Very often the promotion ladder of companies invests in international assignments for hi-po employees in the middle management levels, a time in a woman’s career when she might be balancing her career with pregnancy and childcare.

Change is happening…fast

 PWC found that 71% of millennial women want to work outside their home countries during their career with 84% of them believing that international experience is critical to their career development.

The drive is not just coming from employees. [Tweet “Companies are realising that a more diverse workforce is key to success”]and are making diversity across their organisations a strategic priority and are actively working on redressing the gender imbalance in international assignments

Why international assignments?

Acquiring international experience is essential in our globalised world. For those working in multinational companies, the ability to work and lead across cultures is a necessary skill. Understanding how your company operates internationally is key to understanding its business, strategy and finances.

Living and working overseas, can also be a great opportunity for you and your family to expand your horizons and experience other parts of the world. Read: 5 tips for Moving Abroad With Children

But let’s allow a woman who has built her career around international experience explain its benefits. Sandra MacQuillan, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Kimberly Clark who undertook a number of international assignments with her previous employer Mars Inc. says

“When asked if moving my family and myself so many times around the world was worth it, I can very easily say yes. Yes, because the learning and experience I have been lucky enough to gain of other cultures, geographies, languages and ways of working has, in our ever more-global world, shaped me into the leader I am with people as well as the leader I am in a global business environment – curious, culturally aware, looking to listen and learn as well as more adaptable to unexpected changing circumstances.

A second set of benefits that came to us as a family are our ability to embrace changes as being part of life, adapt quickly and respect and embrace diversity. 3 continents, five countries, and four schools later, I watch my son seamlessly slip into another “very different new” with courage, maturity and a very open mind, something which can only serve him well in the future”

5 tips to land international assignments

It’s clear that international assignments can be a positive for your career, but what do you need to do get one?

1. Be clear about your reasons for wanting an international assignment and about what you expect to get out of it professionally and personally. Make sure your aspirations are aligned with those of the other stakeholders; your employer and your family.

2. Look beyond the barriers. Don’t let the fact there are few women in international roles hold you back from putting yourself forward for an international role. Change has to begin somewhere. Don’t exclude yourself from the process on the assumption that cultural attitudes to women will be a problem. [Tweet “Research has shown that in some countries, being a woman can be an advantage.”]

3. Understand how recruitment for international assignments works in your company. Traditional informal recruiting for international assignments has worked against women. However, many organisations are putting structured talent management processes in place Once you know how it works, don’t be afraid to throw your name into the hat.

4. Be clear about what you have to offer, linking your skills, knowledge, experience and mindset with the role you want

5. Start building your international network. Connect with people in your organisation and your industry who are already working internationally.

Once you’ve landed the assignment, your life changing experience begins.

We are delighted to welcome Evelyn Simpson and Louise Wiles founders of Thriving Abroad to the 3Plus Coaching team offering coaching and training to corporates and individuals on international assignments, expatriation, repatriation and trailing spouse  support.

If you are a female executive who would like help in deciding if an international assignment is for you contact us now

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