There’s little dispute that the past year has been a landmark one for gender equality. The Time’s Up movement, the #MeToo campaign and the backlash against the gender pay gap have ensured that issues relating to harassment and inequality in the workplace have remained front and centre. To mark International Women’s Day we decided to look at gender equality and diversity more broadly within our own area of expertise, global mobility.
How diverse are companies’ international assignee workforces, and why does it matter?
Our latest Managing Mobility Survey showed that on average only 17% of long-term international assignees were women. This figure, though up from previous years and expected to rise further, has considerable room for improvement given approximately 40% of the global workforce are women. Global mobility appears to have some work to do to make sure that companies don’t lose out on the many benefits that a diverse workforce can bring.
Four benefits of a diverse international assignee workforce
Our survey also showed that 73% of respondents had difficulty finding candidates with the right skills, qualifications and experience to undertake long-term international assignments. With the number of assignments expected to increase in the next few years this issue is likely to be exacerbated. One obvious way to try and tackle this would be to widen the pool of potential recruits by targeting previously underrepresented groups. Globally, women holding Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees now outnumber men and they are participating in the workforce in larger numbers than ever before (in OECD countries at least). Any company not actively targeting women for assignments therefore risks missing out on a significant talent pool. By widening their search, companies can ensure that positions are filled by the most talented people, irrespective of gender.
Numerous studies in the last few years have shown that when a company’s workforce is more diverse their productivity and profitability improve (PIIE, McKinsey & Company). This is mainly because diverse workforces tend to be more innovative and creative as they can draw on a greater breadth of perspectives to adapt and respond to today’s ever-changing world. There is therefore a huge competitive advantage to having a diverse workforce at all levels of the organisation. In many companies, international experience is key to career progression, so providing women with equal opportunities to go on assignments will therefore enhance their ability to reach positions of leadership.
It is predicted that millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. As international experience is increasingly valued by employers, many younger employees now see an international posting as desirable or even essential for their career progression. If female employees feel their companies do not provide them with equal opportunities to be internationally mobile, employers may find themselves losing them to competitors who do. By promoting diverse and inclusive policies in the workplace companies will be better able to attract and retain the best talent.
Improved assignment success
Finally, there have even been studies to suggest that women may be better suited to assignments than men. Research by the Korn Ferry Hay Group shows that women have better soft skills, which are particularly useful for assignments where relationships have to be quickly formed with new colleagues and cultural sensitivity has to be shown. Our Managing Mobility Survey showed that firms now value these traits more highly than technical skills and experience in a similar job when identifying candidates for assignments. The two most prized skills cited in the survey were adaptability and communication/interpersonal skills, which again suggests employers would be wise to find ways to increase their proportion of female assignees to boost the success rate of their mobility programmes.
Find out more
The Managing Mobility Survey is available to buy online and takes a detailed look at the challenges companies face when managing long-term assignments and the actions they are taking to overcome them.
ECA’s International Assignment Guides inform and guide employees about the realities of a potential move abroad so that they can decide whether an assignment is the right choice for them. There are three guides for three different scenarios: Planning to Work Abroad?, Together on Assignment and Returning Home.