Why women must go global if we want to close the gender gap on International Women’s Day

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Corporations are increasingly using foreign assignments, once the preserve of middle-aged businessmen on big expense accounts, as a way to spot and escalate young talent.

However, it is claimed that an unconscious bias in the system means women after often overlooked. So, no wonder there remains a glass ceiling in big business with companies increasingly looking for global experience in their future leaders.

Lisa Johnson, Global Practice Leader for Consulting Services at Crown World Mobility, said: “It’s hard for women to climb to the top of the ladder when there are rungs missing further down – and that’s something we should be thinking about on International Women’s Day.

“The only way to boost the number of female employees in leadership positions is to make changes at lower levels within an organisation to clear a path to the top.

“At the moment only one in five people on international assignments are women – it’s been that way for many years despite constant efforts to change it – and we have to start to consider why.

“Sometimes the reasons lie deep in the system and might even even be down to unconscious bias.  Male and female managers often assume that women on their teams would not want to accept an international assignment and therefore it is never offered to them.”

A recent PwC study revealed that 60 per cent of companies use global mobility to develop their succession pipeline for future leaders. The same study showed that 71 per cent  of female millennials want to work outside of their home country, and yet they are stuck in a world where the female assignee population struggles to top 20 per cent.

Company boardrooms also remain male-dominated with a recent Korn Ferry study finding only one in six board members in the UK were women.

The study concluded that men earn on average 28 per cent more than women not because they are paid more for doing the same job but because the higher up in a company you look, the fewer women there are.

Johnson, however, has a solution: “Unconscious-bias training can help close the gender gap, especially if it is coupled with the formal linking of talent development and international mobility,” she said.

“Companies need to think about how much notice is given for long-term assignments, for instance. Opportunities often arise with little warning, meaning employees at pivotal life stages such as pregnancy or caring for relatives may not be able to accept.

“Simply planning international assignments further in advance for those in the leadership pipeline would go a long way to addressing this issue.

“In today’s world, international assignments are an important factor in fostering a culture of inclusion and provide skills that are essential when seeking leadership positions. For this reason, promoting gender equality in this area should be a priority for all businesses.”