Barriers to career women becoming expats ‘overwhelming’ says study

Employers need to do much more to facilitate global mobility among women if they are to achieve their executive potential, according to a report published in Australia.

Businesswoman at airport
PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Melbourne University’s Centre for Ethical Leadership conducted a study into the opportunities for female expats, pointing out that few senior executives with major Australian companies achieved success without spending some time working overseas.But the Australian Financial Review said the study found that, for women, “the barriers to expat life are almost overwhelming”.Jonathan Dunlea, senior partner at PwC, said at the launch of the report this week that only one in four Australians working overseas was a woman, even though they were just as keen as the men to take up the opportunity.“Managers in both home and host countries appear to expect a lack of availability, suitability and willingness from women to take international assignments,” Mr Dunlea said.The research found that male expats were much more likely to have “trailing spouses” when they went abroad, than women. Once in a foreign country, only half of wives worked full-time, compared to 79 per cent of husbands.Unmarried women made up half of female Australian expatriates, compared to only 30 per cent of men.The study found that too few companies made a serious effort to find work for a spouse when an employee was sent abroad, although some offered small financial payments to help compensate for career losses.Mr Dunlea said that it was imperative to increase the expatriate opportunities for women if Australia was to achieve its goal of increasing female representation at board level of companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.“Some of the benefits are tangible in terms of clear experience and networks and some of it is intangible,” he said.“Organisations must see the benefit of this because we see businesses focusing on offering mobility as part of their talent programmes, encouraging their talent to go overseas.”Mr Dunlea outlined a five-point plan to make it easier for women to become expats:
  1. Help spouses find ways to advance their own careers while out of Australia.
  2. Have a formal process of identifying suitable women for overseas postings.
  3. Offer overseas postings earlier in a candidate’s career – preferably while they are still in their 20s when children (if there are any) are younger and easier to move.
  4. Publicise and promote female expats to provide role models for other women.
  5. Ensure a smooth repatriation. 
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