How to increase diversity and encourage women to take up international assignments

For International Women’s Day, how to nurture diversity in male-dominated sectors, such as STEM careers, technology and finance, and how to encourage female staff to take up overseas posts.

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– the must read for HR, global managers and relocation professionals.Across all industries, women comprise 25% of international assignees. That figure hasn’t changed much in recent years, and there are some systemic reasons for this, suggests Dr Susan Shortland, Professor Emerita at Guildhall Business & Law at London Metropolitan University and a Senior Lecturer in HRM at the University of Westminster. Industries that employ a lot of ex-patriates include oil and gas companies and often require natural science and science graduates, she says. Given that women are already under-represented in these areas, the pool of female talent is not always there for employers to choose from.“All industries are trying to make the selection process more transparent and that will help minority populations gain access,” she says. “There are other ways which are helpful, such as having role models, mentoring, networking, and coaching, all of which help to encourage women and minorities.”

The new recruitment focus: non-traditional expats

It’s not always possible to be truly diverse when selecting talent, as some territories have legal restrictions which make it difficult or unsafe for members of staff from the LGBT community to be posted there.There are some areas where there is a higher percentage of ex-pats – for example the not for profit sector - but in engineering only 10% of overseas assignments are taken up by women.“Employers nowadays have a much stronger focus on diversity of all aspects, not just gender,” Dr Shortland says. “They are keen to get higher numbers of women participating in global mobility, but their choices are often affected by families and dual careers. There is a greater effort to recruit non-traditional expatriates including the LGBT community.”Generally speaking, women tend to take a secondary role in terms of generating household income and so they may not necessarily take the lead in terms of going abroad.“Once children are at critical school age it tends to reduce women’s mobility,” Dr Shortland says. “Women tend to stay behind while men go abroad or on commuter assignments. It’s not always the case, of course.”Progress can be made early on by encouraging women into industries where they are still not fully represented.“It goes right back to school days and careers education and encouraging girls to enter industries that are not typically chosen by women,” she says. “The proportion of women taking maths, science and engineering degrees is lower than men.”She quotes Eurostat figures which show that 54% of all students in the 28 member countries of the EU at tertiary education level were women, of which 53% were on bachelor programmes, 57% were masters students and 48% were doctoral students. Yet 74% of engineering and construction students were male, and 63% of natural sciences, maths, and ICT were male.

Diversity is good for business

Jill Morris, Senior HR Business Partner at Hitachi Vantara, says that UK businesses must recognise the ongoing gender imbalance as a major concern. Diversity is proven to increase workplace creativity, performance and ultimately a business’s bottom line.“While we’ve certainly made positive progress over the last couple of years, there’s still a long way to go until the technology sector is truly diverse,” she says. “Breaking down established gender biases and empowering young women interested in STEM – no matter their level of expertise – should be made a primary concern for any modern business.”Despite efforts to encourage more women into STEM careers, progress has been slow and more needs to be done, she says.“These issues should be tackled at a grassroots level, ensuring young women have access to the right mentors and given the opportunity to view STEM as a ‘normal’ – rather than ‘alternative’ – career path.”

Making female managers the rule, not the exception 

Jane Sydenham, Investment Director at Rathbones, says her perception of International Women’s Day has changed dramatically in the last decade.“Ten years ago, it felt as though it was a good thing to celebrate as there were always a small number of exceptional women who reached the highest echelons in their respective industries, and who were role models for the next generation, but in the industries where representation was very low, not much was changing,” she said.“In the last couple of years, the whole conversation around women has changed so materially and I am much more hopeful that we are now going to see many more women making significant progress in their careers in terms of equal pay, promotions, and sharing the domestic caring burden with their partners, so that not only the really exceptional succeed, but a much broader range of women from all backgrounds.”

Access to capital for female entrepreneurs

In the world of finance, many institutional investors employ no women at senior level, with industry-wide figures only 6% overall.Jill Williams, Investment Director at Mercia, believes that a full and diverse investment team could break the deadlock, but this shouldn’t be achieved through tokenism.A recent report, the UK VC & Female Founders report, which was commissioned by the government, made for sober reading, It highlighted that for every £1 of venture capital investment, less than 1p goes to all-female founder teams. By comparison, all-male founder teams receive 89p and mixed-gender teams get the remaining 10p. The research, commissioned by the government, will inform ongoing work to tackle the underfunding issue and ultimately boost the economy.Over the last five years, there has been a concerted effort by organisations such as British Business Angels to increase the numbers of senior women in the VC and private equity community, she says. Level 20, a not- for-profit organisation inspiring women to join the private equity industry, is targeting up to 20%.“Today, the world of corporate finance and the intermediary market is male-dominated which may lead to an unconscious bias and be off-putting to female founders,” she says.“However, as part of the investment process, Mercia holds assessment days where potential investees are invited to present their ideas and meet the members of the investment team who they would work with. This helps female-founded business owners will take comfort from seeing that Mercia is far from being an all-male environment and there is less apprehension of bias (unconscious or otherwise).”
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