Gender equality lacking in global mobility opportunities

Angilynn Chan-Baraud

As soon as she finished her degree qualifications in Canada and embarked on her job search, Angilynn Chan-Baraud began to explore her global mobility options.

She said that is part of the reason why she chose accounting in the first place – because she knew she could work anywhere in the world with those qualifications.

“I didn’t want to have any doors closed to me – that was definitely one of the motivating factors for me during my job search,” Chan-Baraud said. “When I was looking at where I wanted to work, or what I wanted to do, I knew that I definitely wanted to travel. I enjoyed seeing new places and learning about different cultures, and that’s one of the main reasons why I chose to work at PwC. I knew they’re a global network of firms.”

Chan-Baraud, now the business development senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Cayman, said she knew she wanted to work in financial services and wanted to work in a place that was a hub for the industry. She considered New York, Bermuda and London, before choosing Cayman. She said PwC made the path to international assignments clear with its internal site that lists job postings all over the world.

“The opportunities are endless,” Chan-Baraud said. “It was very easy to move within the network.”

Chan-Baraud said she never felt excluded from the international assignment process because of her gender and that within PwC, “everybody has the same opportunities to apply.”

Globally, however, many women are not given the same opportunities to undertake international assignments as their male colleagues. Companies that neglect to offer opportunities for international assignments to their female employees may be missing out on an increasingly important segment of the talent pool, according to a recent report released by PwC.

To mark International Women’s Day on March 8, PwC released the report “Modern mobility: Moving with purpose.” The survey of almost 4,000 professionals worldwide found that while there are more career-ambitious, educated women entering the workforce than ever, they are not yet afforded the same opportunities for global mobility as their male counterparts. That could be a huge problem for firms, as the report found that 71 percent of female millennials want to work outside their home country during their career, and 64 percent of women said opportunities to undertake international assignments were critical in attracting them to, and keeping them with an employer.

Only 20 percent of current international assignees are women, according to the report.

“We are experiencing a time of unprecedented – and as yet unmet – female demand for international mobility,” said Aiofe Flood, lead researcher of the PwC report. “Women are feeling this inequity in the organizations that they work for.”

Necessary for recruitment, retention

According to the report, employers must address this inequity in order to attract, hire and retain female talent, and to do so they will need to break down the barriers of gender stereotypes that continue to keep women out of the loop when it comes to global mobility opportunities.

“Organizations might hold outdated beliefs that women with children don’t want to work abroad,” the report states, noting that 41 percent of women who said they want to undertake an international assignment are parents, compared with 40 percent of male respondents, indicating that parenthood is no more of a deterrent to moving abroad for women than for men.

Chan-Baraud said that while she did not have a family when she moved to Cayman, she understands there are different challenges when moving abroad with a family. However, she said she thinks the support PwC provides to women with families is equal to the support she received when transitioning abroad.

“In my personal experience with PwC across the globe, there is a focus on work-life balance,” Chan-Baraud said. “We do work hard, but there is also an understanding that family and balance is essential to a well-rounded career and life. Our people are our largest asset, and allowing flexibility to manage our work and home lives are key ingredients to having a productive work force.

“To this day, there are still international assignments and opportunities within the PwC network that have come across my desk. My husband and I have spoken about the potential of moving somewhere else to gain a different experience and lifestyle, not just for my career, but for our family,” Chan-Baraud added.

Partner’s salary not the issue

PwC’s research also found that while men consider women’s concerns of putting their partner’s higher-salary income at risk as the second-highest barrier to female global mobility, 77 percent of women in a dual career couple earn the same or more than their partner.

“This higher income risk may well be a challenge when deploying women, but it will be equally challenging when deploying men,” the report states. “To overcome the barriers to more gender inclusive mobility, international employers must first identify and understand the actual – not assumed – barriers confronting them.”

The report suggests companies use “data analytics” to gain a clearer view of their current mobility and workforce demographics, especially since the research found a number of “glaring disconnects” between what companies say about mobility and diversity and what they actually do in practice.

Around 60 percent of global mobility leaders confirmed to researchers that they have a diversity strategy, but only 22 percent agreed that their organization’s global mobility and diversity strategy were aligned, and the same percentage said they were actively trying to increase their female international mobile populations.

“The majority of employer mobility programmes are being used to develop a succession pipeline of future leaders, yet only a minority are actively trying to increase their female international mobile population,” the report states. “This leadership diversity disconnect must be addressed if international employers are to utilise the full capabilities of their workforce, develop a succession pipeline that reflects the talent within their wider workforce, and reap the benefits that stem from greater leadership diversity.”

Culture change

The first step to achieving a more gender inclusive mobility, the report asserts, is for firms to create a culture of international mobility, by making opportunities to work overseas more transparent, visibly sharing the positive international experiences of past and current assignees, and actively seeking out opportunities to increase their number of mobile women employees.

Fewer than half of the women surveyed in the report, 49 percent, said their organization has enough female role models with successful international assignment experience.

Firms are also not tapping into the population that is most interested in moving abroad. The vast majority of the survey respondents, 74 percent, said they would prefer to complete a mobility experience within the first six years of their career. Yet 33 perfect of organizations do not currently offer early mobility opportunities.

“It is critical that international employers get early mobility right: those that do will have an edge in the war for talent attraction and retention, will be more successful in leveraging millennial mobility demand, and will reap the long-term benefits of developing a more gender-diverse leadership pipeline,” the report states.

Other elements, such as mobile readiness, location, duration, benefits and repatriation are all issues explored in the PwC report, and elements that firms should consider when developing a gender-equal global mobility strategy.