Female Expatriates: On the Move?

There seemed to be a big buzz in the global HR world around 2006 that the percentage of female expatriates was really on the rise. But is that still the case?

Conduct a quick search for current articles on the female expat situation, and you come up fairly empty handed. I did manage to find some recent voices espousing interesting opinions on what’s going on with female expats–some positive, some bleak.

Young and Mobile

According to a recent Telegraph article, if you are a 20-to-30 something single female, have a personality that works well with others and have managed to nail down a foreign language, then you’ve got what international business leaders want.

But I am curious if this consistently translates into females being offered international assignments.

Is There a Catch?

Dr. Ines Wichert, co-president of the Professional Women’s Network in London, voices her concern. Quoted in the same article, she reports that although women are desirable candidates for international assignments due to their sound interpersonal skills (which help with cultural sensitivity and relationship building), they often find it difficult to land those positions.

Dr. Wichert claims there is a “phenomenon called the ‘glass border’, due to organisations’ concerns about how women will fare in patriarchal countries or the additional strain that a woman may experience when she moves abroad with her spouse and children.”

This makes sense. We certainly wouldn’t want to place women in hostile environments or set them up for unnecessary failure. But I can’t help but wonder if this perception limits females’ international mobility.

Gaining Ground?

Other scholars see gender diversification in international assignees improving. While relatively slight, a rise in female assignees is already in motion.

In his Expatriatus blog, Sebastian Reiche shares data from Brookfield GRS’s recent relocation survey: “The Brookfield (2013) data shows that compared to 2011 the percentage of female assignees has increased by 5%, and by 130% compared to female representation 20 years ago.”

These are impressive stats and offer hope for a growing shift in the future of female representation in the expat arena.

Leading the Way

And we’ve all heard the talk about an inevitable international leadership crisis. Well, some folks are saying, “Why not women?”.

Authors Sapna Welsh and Caroline Kersten in a SHRM article espouse that very sentiment. Their research demonstrates female expats possess four global leadership competencies that uniquely position them for leadership roles: they are “self awareness, conscious imbalance, operating outside your comfort zone and active career management.”

Reiche also confirms the importance of having female leaders within global companies. In another Expatriatus blog post, he highlights the efforts of CEO Chris Sullivan of RBS Corporate Banking, a global corporation very intentional in its creation of pathways for female mobility into executive positions.

What’s Next?

So, thinking about this data collectively leads me to conclude that women, whether recently graduated or with an established career, pursuing international leadership assignments should stay steadfast in that pursuit, pushing the “glass border” outward, spanning the globe.