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Dear Workforce What Factors Must Companies Take Into Account When Trying to Get Women Executives to Accept International Assi

Dear Whither Go the Women:

The rise in global activity and global competition has meant that more women are entering management positions. Whereas previous stereotypical images of international managers were those of men in their mid- to late 40s with university degrees, times are changing. Nowadays the war for talent and the scarcity of human capital resources has leveled the playing field, giving female managers more international opportunities than ever before. Today companies are employing the best person for the job, not just the best available man.

Overcoming biases toward selecting female assignees has not been easy, but it is certainly improving. These include addressing the challenges associated with breaking the glass ceiling; inviting females into male-only networks or establishing female-only networks; increasing the number of female role models and mentors; developing a female model of career development (rather than adapting or forcing the traditional male model upon women); and embracing a female managerial style. In addition, more women are now asking to be included in the selection process for international job opportunities.

Based on the limited research into this topic, a number of concerns for women assignees are evident. First and foremost is the company’s need to address the dual-career challenge and offer support services for the male trailing spouse. Spouses who cannot work or whose careers are significantly disrupted as a result of an international relocation are a major reason for assignment failures. Whereas the traditional profile of an international assignee has been a male with a stay-at-home wife, for which the dual-career issue appears less important, research shows that female assignees have a higher proportion of professional (dual-career) spouses than their male counterparts, and the ability to continue their career is extremely important.

Companies need to recognize that while all trailing spouses require support, support for the male trailing spouse is perhaps even more important given their frequent change in status from primary breadwinner to that of supporting spouse in an expatriate community that seldom sees men assume such roles.

Second, just as women in general take greater responsibility for organizing the family and children than do their husbands, female assignees usually continue to maintain these roles once posted internationally. Juggling these demands with their professional responsibilities, particularly in an international setting for which they may be ill-prepared, adds to their concern about accepting, and performing in, international locations. For those assignees with children, the demands of domestic responsibilities are even greater.

Third, female assignees require adequate training to prepare them for the cultural challenges of working abroad. This is no different to male assignees who often complain that the demands of working and living abroad can be eased if proper attention to cultural training is offered and encouraged.

Finally, covert gender biases remain a top concern for female assignees. The most obvious forms of discrimination are still in salary scales and educational qualifications deemed necessary for a particular job. Many female assignees still report that they have to be better than the men in their companies to get to the same top job. Overcoming negative attitudes from males toward them as international female managers has been a significant challenge. For female assignees there is strong evidence to suggest that they often work much harder than their male counterparts in the same roles simply to get ahead. Therefore, their commitment and determination often far exceed the average male assignee.

SOURCE: Yvonne McNulty, founder, www.thetrailingspouse.com, Singapore. This letter originally appeared in Dear Workforce on January 18, 2007.

LEARN MORE: More women received overseas assignments during a five-year stretch, according to a 2006 study.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

Workforce Management Online, April 2010Register Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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