Moving the Needle

Ways to diversify mobility programs in order to increase the number of female transferees

By Debbie Bolla

Year after year, an increasing number of organizations recognize the importance of executing diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives in order to build an enriched workforce built on different backgrounds, values, and approaches. In fact, Deliotte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends reports that 69 percent of executives rate D&I an important issue. And it’s with good reason. Additional research from McKinsey finds that companies in the top quartile of executive-board diversity had 53 percent higher returns on equity than those in the bottom quartile. Plus the research notes that organizations with more female executives are more profitable.

One area for consideration is how organizations approach female inclusion in relocation programs. Recent research from PwC finds that the total number of female assignees is around 20 percent. What are the factors driving this low rate?

“The gender gap likely mirrors some of the same issues impacting the advancement for women in leadership positions,” says Mark Woelfel, vice president of global business development for CapRelo. “There are both intentional and unintentional biases that come into play when women are not selected for assignments.”

One barrier, says Woelfel, is that many organizations don’t have a formal candidate assessment process, resulting
in relocation assignment offers for candidates who are merely perceived to be the best fit for the position rather than those who are actually most qualified.

Assumptions also play a role. Mangers may assume
that female leaders are the primary caregivers for their family and unwilling to take a long-term assignment. Organizations can help curb this challenge by providing unconscious bias training for selection managers suggests, Crown World Mobility’s 2017 Global Mobility Trends report.

Another consideration is the location of the assignment. “As more and more assignments are going to emerging and hardship markets (for instance, Saudi Arabia), there may also be unfounded concerns around safety and practicalities,” says Woelfel. “However, most organizations claim not to consider this when making candidate selections.”

Any one of these inhibitors can work against an organization’s bottom line. “The gender gap can have an impact in several ways, such as when companies pick less qualified men over more qualified women.
In these instances, they’re not making the best use of their resources, which can have financial and other consequences,” says Laurie Allen, CRP, GMS and vice president of client operations for MSI Talent Global Talent Solutions. “It also limits the diversity of their workforce, which can inhibit new ideas being introduced.”

What can HR and organizations do to help close the gender gap?

“Organizations need to better partner talent acquisition, talent management, and global mobility teams with the business entities that require expatriate assignments. This will allow a more focused due diligence to attract, engage, and retain talent that can be coached and assessed as key performers for expatriate assignments,” recommends Woelfel.

There a few best practices an organization can follow:

A formalized selection process. Aligning relocation programs with talent management goals begins with
a formalized selection process that has a systematic approach to finding the best candidate for the assignment based on skills and experience, while eliminating any inherent bias.

Allen says a formal candidate selection process should include an assessment of readiness and an individual’s likelihood of succeeding on an assignment. Taking it a step further, organizations would also bene t if they provided an assessment of readiness to the family as well.

Education and training. Organizations should consider educating HR business partners about the many myths around female expatriates, recommends Woelfel. Common assumptions that females require more safety or need to take care of their children are simply not accurate. In fact, female demand for mobility has never been higher, with

PwC research finding that 71 percent of female millennials want to take on an international assignment. The same study found that 41 percent of the women that desire international assignments are also parents.

A new, flexible approach to solutions. Traditional relocation policies are often viewed as rigid by today’s standards. Worker preferences have changed and technology that enables company success has made different approaches to work possible.

“If a woman doesn’t want to go on a longer term assignment, companies can consider other assignment types like short-term or rotational, or extended business travel,” says Allen.

Advance assignment planning. Organization looking to close the gender gap can by incorporating advance assignment planning, recommends the Crown World Mobility report. This will allow employees more time to plan for a relocation assignment and align personal and professional goals. MSI’s Allen agrees that this approach also works for skills development relocation. If organizations can work together with employees on timing and deployment dates, the best candidate—no matter the gender—will likely accept.

A culture of mobility. PwC finds that creating a culture of mobility is key to creating more gender-inclusive programs. The organization’s research finds that 65 percent of women are interested in learning more about relocation opportunities. To create a culture of mobility, the firm recommends that employers transparently present opportunities for relocation; have previous transferees share experiences; and consider increasing their number of annual assignments.

SIDEBAR: Top Barriers to International Assignments

PwC’s recent research, Modern Mobility: Moving Women with Purpose, examines the gender gap in relocation programs. The study found the top barriers causing the under-representation of women on international assignments include:

45% agree:

Organization doesn’t have a clear view of employees who are willing to accept international assignments.

34% agree:

Lack of female role models with global experience that has enabled career success.

33% agree:

Women with children who do not want to relocate. 

Posted November 30, 2017 in RPO & Staffing

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