Sunday, March 27, 2011

Where Are All the Expat Women?

Human Resources Executive magazine interviewed me recently about executive expat women. Author Jared Shelly addressed the issue of why fewer women are sent on international relocation assignments, Here are excerpts from the article that ran in the print and online editions.

Alexandra Hendrickson is the perfect woman.

She's smart. She's successful. She's driven. She's even lived all over the world.

Perhaps best of all, she's single.

Yes, if you're a relocation executive looking for an employee to send on an international assignment, Hendrickson is, indeed, perfect.

Working as an executive recruiter at DHR International in Pittsburgh, Hendrickson jumped at the chance to move to the robust recruiting market of Shanghai in February 2009 -- and HR jumped at the chance to send her.

And why not? Hendrickson rented her Pittsburgh home, so no need to navigate the tough real-estate market. She already completed relocation assignments in England, Hungary and France, so she certainly had experience living and working in a foreign country.

She also showed considerable interest in moving to China, and had some of her best clients in Shanghai.

Plus, there were no family conflicts holding her back.

"In my case, I was extremely flexible to move, so that made it easier," says Hendrickson.

But is that what it takes to relocate a woman these days? A perfect fit?

It certainly appears so. Companies are sending fewer and fewer women on international assignments than just five years ago. In 2010, women made up just 17 percent of international expatriates, compared to 23 percent in 2005, according to the 2010 Global Relocation Trends Survey by Brookfield Global Relocation Services in Woodridge, Ill. That's the lowest number since 2001, when just 16 percent of international assignees were women.

HR executives, female expats and industry experts pin the falling numbers on a wide range of issues -- from family and spousal concerns to the fact that the economic downturn has led to fewer developmental relocation opportunities for younger women.

They also agree that the lack of women on assignment doesn't just limit the pool of talent sent to other countries; it hurts leadership development and, eventually, leads to a lack of female senior leaders -- since relocation is such a vital developmental tool.

To add more women to the relo ranks, they suggest utilizing spousal-assistance programs, offering more developmental assignments and developing systems to allow employees to make it known that they're interested in relocating internationally.......

Valuable Experience

Refusals from female expats are not the only factors driving the numbers down; companies have also been shying away from sending women abroad. Companies want to send employees overseas who have experience as business managers or who have start-up skills, says Jo Rust, director of international consulting services at Cartus, a Danbury, Conn.-based global relocation-management firm. And that is a demographic still dominated by men, she says.

In fact, just 14.4 percent of executive officer positions were held by women, according to two studies released in December by Catalyst Inc., the New York-based membership organization promoting inclusive workplaces.

Considering that these positions are the ones most likely to be relocated, and there are far fewer women in those positions, it drove the number or women assignees down.

Hendrickson -- the DHR International employee now working in Shanghai -- has been adamant about telling peers (male and female) that there is one sure-fire way to put yourself in line for a relocation assignment -- get into a line-management position.

People who get relocated are "running businesses, growing sales and managing expenses," says Hendrickson, adding that they also tend to be mostly male. "Women tend to be in functional positions, human resources, government affairs or maybe a finance role ... but it's line managers who they send overseas."

That's especially true in today's economy, because developmental assignments are taking a backseat to moves that stem from necessity, says Scott Sullivan, executive vice president of Brookfield Global Relocation Services.....
To read the whole article please go to:

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