By Mercer's Kate Bravery and Robert Baker and L’Oreal's Stephanie Roche
Today’s mobility experts have unprecedented access to a constantly changing global conversation. As of late, this conversation has involved lots of questions regarding how companies can update traditional HR paradigms to accommodate shifting workforce demands. This has left many mobility professionals scratching their heads as they try to answer major questions like:
- What are the top jobs and skills we’ll need for the future of our industry?
- How should I re-organize my company’s infrastructure to accommodate these new jobs and skills?
- How can I ensure that my company’s people are thriving during these times of rapid expansion?
- How can my company as a whole better ease its transformation?
As it turns out, every single one of these questions is worth pondering, and recent research has validated this. In fact, findings from the 2018 Global Talent Trends Study Unlocking Growth in the Human Age identified many upcoming talent trends set to reshape the future mobility landscape. One of the top trends identified was the growing need for organizations to change at speed. In addition, half of the surveyed executives predicted that at least one out of five of the major roles within their organizations will cease to exist by 2022. Change is certainly coming, and global HR professionals need to be prepared for it. The best way to do that is to tap into every single resource at your disposal and think as creatively as possible about talent and talent moves.
At its essence, the ability to “change at speed” means being able to adapt to new scenarios and master new skills at a much faster pace than before. Global HR experts will need to look closely at places where innovation is occurring both inside and outside of their organization. This will provide some important industry insights and allow them to better predict which skills might be the most valuable in the future. However, for the time being, you can get a head start by looking closely at the different populations of your global workforce, especially those that have traditionally been underrepresented when it comes to taking on international assignments.
In this case, that specific demographic is your female employees.
Barriers to Gender Parity in the Global Workforce
As is, there is a significant gender disparity throughout the expatriate workforce as a whole. On a global scale, only 14% of employees currently on international assignment are women. Of course, this statistic varies by industry and region, but from a high-level, it’s remains painfully obvious that even in the most mature markets, parity is nowhere close to where it needs to be.
Coupled with the fact that many organizations consider international experience an essential part of climbing the corporate ladder, these gender disparity issues are becoming magnified within the global mobility landscape. When you factor in the troubling lack of workers possessing appropriate skills for the future, there is no question that gender inequality in the expatriate workforce is something that must be addressed. But even so, there are still a number of barriers inhibiting the greater participation of women in the global workforce, with some of the most prominent examples being:
- Unconscious bias during the selection process (such as misguided assumptions about a woman’s suitability for international relocation in certain areas or willingness to take them on).
- A lack of women considered “qualified” in a company’s succession pipeline (that is, females who have enough of the right experience to supposedly take on an international assignment).
- A lack of visible assignment opportunities for women (the jobs are there but might not be seen/made visible to women)
- A lack of women volunteering for expat positions (whether due to a lack of organizational role models, lack of appropriate company incentives to move, or any number of other reasons).
- A lack of practical support or flexible working arrangements in regards to managing multiple careers, family issues, or some other factor that might impede their ability to work on assignment
At first glance, these barriers might seem to only impact employees, but from a broader perspective, they are also extremely detrimental to the growth your company’s business and the larger economies or markets in which your company operates. After all, every single barrier for one of your employees is a missed opportunity for another international assignment, which in itself is a barrier to greater international expansion. As a result, your organization and the expatriate management professionals who work there must take greater steps to increase female participation in your global workforce.
How to Reduce Gender Disparity in Your Global Workforce
1. Identify and address the reasons for your workforce disparity.
Since one of the biggest barriers to having more female expats in the global workforce is the apparent lack of women in the succession pipeline, a major question comes to light. That question is:
“Are these female prospects putting themselves forward for these assignment opportunities and then being rebuffed, or are these female prospects not being offered the opportunities for these assignments in the first place?”
After addressing this question for your organization, you must go even deeper to find the underlying cause of the issue. In many instances, the root of the problem lies in conscious or unconscious biases regarding who can successfully go on international assignment and accomplish all the organizational tasks associated with such a duty. Addressing these misconceptions about what types of employees can or cannot go on assignment is one of the most important things you can do, initially.
2. Consider the needs of the expat’s family.
To champion international assignment opportunities for women, you must assess the components of your global mobility programs. This is especially true in regards to the expat bonuses or incentives you're willing to grant for the families of those expats remaining in the country of origin. After all, many female employees (and their male counterparts) have children and spouses to look after, even if they’re going overseas. As a result, you must curate global mobility programs that can truly care for the expat as well as her or his dependents.
For example, some accompanying families will need pre-move training, security briefing, intercultural or language training, and so on. A small number of organizations will even provide some child care assistance to expat families, whether it be a small lump sum or an even larger payment.
Meanwhile, other companies will provide job-search programs to help spouses find a job of overseas. These programs often come in handy due to large number of cultural disparities related to the acquisition of work from country to country. For example, many US-based job-hunting procedures vary from the procedures in European countries such as France or England, whether in regards to proper résumé/curriculum vitae formatting, face-to-face interview expectations, or any number of other job-searching essentials.
These differences, no matter how subtle, can present significant job barriers for relocated spouses if they are not properly informed and prepared beforehand. With this understanding, some organizations now provide job-search programs with specialists who can help family members network, acclimate to their new environment, and ultimately break into their new local workforce. Dual-career networking services (such as those provided by the International Dual Career Network) also serve as a great perk for any expat package involving the physical relocation of a family.
3. Foster a supportive and inclusive culture from the top-down.
Since first-hand international experience is often related to career advancement, your global HR duties demand that you do all you can to foster a supportive, inclusive, and transparent company culture. By taking steps towards this goal, you will slowly start to encourage more open communication about the many hazards of workforce disparity. Then, over time, your intrinsic company culture will start to move away from the restrictive gender stigmas of the past, which is an absolutely critical for unlocking your full global workforce potential.
The ultimate challenge here is to create a culture where all your employees are on board with diversity and recognize the value in it, and achieving this goal often involves starting at the top. Your organization’s presidents, executives, managers, and other leaders must be on board with your various diversity-related initiatives as well, and you can encourage their participation through any number of tactics. These could include routine inclusivity training, courses that help them recognize and address their own unconscious biases, and by simply setting tangible company goals or creating councils focused on hiring, retaining, and advancing your more diverse demographics of works.
A Diverse Talent Pool for the Future
In the short-term and the long-term, empowering your female workforce can only help your company adapt to the rapidly changing global environment, while also letting you take advantage of emerging international assignment opportunities. As the global mobility landscape constantly reshapes itself, the ability to draw from a diverse and experienced talent pool will become more and more valuable. This is why it’s crucial to put the time and energy into refining the skills of all your employees if you want to remain fully staffed with as many future workforce leaders as possible, even when it comes to managing diversity in traditionally non-diverse locations . What better way to gain a competitive advantage?
Finally, you should always be aware that diversifying your global workforce is not only an important practice from an ethical standpoint—it’s also an important practice from a business standpoint. Many of the competencies demanded by the Future of Work such as empathy, dealing with complexity and relationship skills are areas where women excel. Why neglect your organization the chance to capitalize on this, especially when utilizing a variety of unique perspectives and skills is most likely to foster innovation – and robust innovation given the large percentage of your consumer base they no doubt represent? At the end of the day, whenever you actively encourage and facilitate female participation in your global workforce, everyone benefits.
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