International Assignments – The Gender Divide

Gender Divide

Over the past few years “gender divide” has become a common phrase. With initiatives to promote female seniors and business leaders highly publicised in the press, has the world of Global Mobility followed suit? The short answer is no.

Survey Results

Wakefield and Topia’s recent survey shows the gender divide in mobility remains very much alive across the UK. They found that whilst 27% of males are more likely to be moved around international offices, this was true for only 17% of females.

Stark Contrast

Wakefield and Topia are not alone in their findings. Research carried out by PwC found that of only 20% of the assignee population were female. This statistic is in stark contrast to the 71% of female millennials who indicated that working abroad was a ‘must’ for their future career ambitions.

Making Changes

PwC identified a number of ways for organisations to boost the percentage of female employees being considered and sent on international assignments, which I shall further explore in my blog below…

Role Models

One way to address the gender gap in international assignments is the provision of successful female role models. Of the female participants in PwC’s survey, only 49% agreed that their employer had enough female ‘international assignee role models’.

Pioneering Women

Not only will a diverse group of female role models encourage potential future female assignees to follow in their footsteps, but it can also have an organisation-wide effect on the perception of what an assignee looks like.

Unconscious Bias

This can help to tackle unconscious biases that exist in the decisions making process, where it is sometimes assumed that females (especially with young families) would not be interested in an overseas opportunity.

An Early Start

Timing seems to be a crucial factor when considering an international assignment, with the vast majority of females preferring to undertake an international assignment early on in their careers, and/or before they start a family.

Considering Preferences

Whilst this is not likely to come as a surprise for many, it is also interesting to note that the same preference regarding timing also applies to men. Organisations looking to increase their female assignee population should, therefore, consider offering assignments to high-potential female candidates in the early stages of their career.


Whilst over 30% of females surveyed in PwC’s study indicated that they would be happy to consider relocating to anywhere in the world, a significant number said that they would never consider relocating to the Middle East (48%) or Africa (43%).

Increased Incentives

An obvious way to work around this is to consider female assignees for alternative locations. Another approach taken by some organisations is to offer greater incentives for accepting assignments to less desirable host locations.

Coming Home

PwC’s survey found that of the top 4 concerns for female employees, 3 were issues relating to repatriation. Concerns focused on the assignee’s role upon their return to their home country and the problem of potentially being ‘out of the loop’ once they return.

Repatriation Processes

The clear way to combat these anxieties is for international employers to have a strong repatriation process in place, and to assign a home-based mentor to the assignee. Regular contact between home and host teams would also help to assuage concerns regarding feeling ‘out of the loop’.

Your Experience

Have you experienced the assignee gender gap in your organisation? Or has your company taken great strides to improve the female assignment experience? We would love to hear your thoughts!

Written by Sophie Watkins – Recruitment Consultant & Special Projects at Alchemy Global Talent Solutions.