In many organisations, international experience is an increasingly important requirement for both men and women who want to move into leadership positions. Yet according to a report released this week by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), companies may be overlooking women for international assignments. However, the research also shows that CEOs can close this gap.
The findings of the report, called Women on the Move: Shaping Leaders Through Overseas Postings, reveal that 55% of women surveyed said that they would be willing to move abroad for a job assignment. What’s more, children did not seem to be a deterrence to these assignments: 44% of women with children were willing to move abroad. Yet despite this, less than 30% of women who were willing to move had actually done so, compared with 40% of men in similar situations. Moreover, when a gap in desire to relocate exists, research shows that it can be narrowed; willingness to move is not a fixed attribute.
These findings are an opportunity for organisations to enable their female talent to gain critical experience on their path to leadership roles. “International assignments can provide countless opportunities for employees to grow both personally and professionally,” says Claire Tracey, a BCG partner and a coauthor of the report. “From a personal perspective, they allow employees to travel and to learn a new language and culture. They also give them a holistic picture of an organisation’s total operations, making them great candidates for future leadership roles.”
Closing the Mobility Gap
BCG recommends four steps that companies can take to ensure that they have a strong leadership pipeline and that both men and women have opportunities to take on international assignments:
- Engage younger employees. The report found that women in their 20s—particularly single women without children—have the greatest willingness to travel. Companies may consider exploring ways to tap into this desire by developing mobility programs that target high performers early in their careers or after their first promotion hurdle.
- Offer multiple opportunities. International posts do not have to be a one-time experience. Companies should consider offering more short-term international assignments. The report found a 30% increase in willingness to move abroad among women who have had international assignments previously. In addition, 63% of women said that they prefer relocations of five years or less.
- Create the right support. Companies should offer logistical support to families, such as helping them navigate education, health care, and tax systems. Designating an in-country sponsor to assist employees before and after their arrival can also be critical. In addition, companies may want to explore ways to create networks for employees who are traveling abroad. One way to do this would be to offer simultaneous postings so that a small group of employees could take advantage of an international opportunity together.
- Identify alternatives to international opportunities. With regard to women who have high potential but are not able to relocate, leaders should look for other opportunities for them to build international experience, such as ensuring that they are members of international teams. Internal rotations can also be a great way to give those women insight into how other functions and business units operate without requiring them to relocate.
“An employees’ willingness to travel fluctuates based on both personal and professional factors. But a person’s family status should not be assumed to be a barrier to international opportunities within an organisation,” says Matt Krentz, a BCG senior partner and a coauthor of the report. “When companies overlook women for these assignments, it not only puts them at a disadvantage, it hurts the organisation by weakening their leadership pipeline.”
Photo of a woman at the airport: Mike Wilson