Women sidelined in global assignments selection: BCG

Following its research debunking the impact of motherhood on career aspirations, management consultants Boston Consulting Group reveal new insights on women and global mobility.

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The findings of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report, Women on the Move: Shaping Leaders Through Overseas Postings, reveal that 55 per cent of women surveyed said that they would be willing to move abroad for a job assignment.Chiming with findings from another new BCG report Dispelling the Myths of the Gender “Ambition Gap”, the worldwide management consultant's study found having children does not seem to deter ambition to go on assignment: 44 per cent of women with children were willing to move abroad.Yet, fewer than 30 per cent of women who were willing to move had actually done so, compared with 40 per cent of men in similar situations.

Cultural shifts to support opportunities for women

Further, the research found when a gap in desire to relocate exists, it can be narrowed by shifts in culture and attitudes; willingness to move is not a fixed attribute, says BCG.“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,” said 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.”

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Benefits of international assignments

With international experience often a requirement for both men and women who want to move into leadership positions, the report overall concludes that companies may be overlooking women for international assignments.“International assignments can provide countless opportunities for employees to grow both personally and professionally,” said 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.”

How to close the female global mobility gap

With the skills high on CEOs’ agendas, both Boston Consulting Group reports shed new light on the role of leaders in meeting demographic challenges.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
  1. 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 programmes that target high-performers early in their careers or after their first promotion.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Identify alternatives to international opportunities: In cases where women 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 offer insight into how other functions and business units operate without requiring them to relocate.

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