Why Aren’t Women Being Offered International Jobs?

A new study examines the reasons why women are less likely to be considered for positions abroad.

Why Aren’t Women Being Offered International Jobs?
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Moving employees through different departments gives them a more holistic experience of a company. Moving them to offices in other countries is not only good for their personal career growth, but is also a positive driver of business success, according to data from PwC.


From the employee’s perspective, there’s never been more demand for working overseas, particularly among millennial women.

We already know that millennials can be a peripatetic group when it comes to careers. Almost half say that, if given the choice, they would leave their current employer in the next two years. That’s in line with findings from a recent PayScale survey, which found that only 13% of millennials believe workers should stay in a job for at least five years, as opposed to 41% of boomers who favored hanging on.

A PwC survey of 9,000 women in more than 70 countries revealed a startling disparity: A majority (71%) of female millennials want to work abroad during their career, but only 20% of the current internationally mobile population are women.

The problem, in part, comes from the top. Back in 2011, PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey revealed that only 12% of CEOs saw poor retention of female talent as a key business challenge over the coming three years, and even fewer (11%) had plans to address it. By 2015, a growing number of CEOs had clued in to the business case for talent diversity, yet only 64% of all CEOs globally confirmed they have a diversity strategy.

To take a deeper dive into the management and diversity of international employers and the attitudes of the women in their talent pools, PwC conducted two additional cross-generational surveys of global workforce mobility that polled more than 4,000 participants in 40-plus countries.

The good news: 89% of organizations plan to increase their numbers of international mobile workers in the coming two years.


In the meantime, there are barriers to women’s entry on the global leadership track.

The PwC survey found that women who want to go for a position abroad are 19% more likely than their male peers to believe both genders have an equal shot at the assignments overseas. This shifted as the women rose to more senior positions, making them less likely to believe there were equal opportunities to work internationally. The belief in opportunities varied by industry. Women working in communications (53%), energy, utilities and mining (57%), and government and public services (73%) were least likely to agree. Financial services (75%), technology (74%), and professional services (73%) reported that there were equal opportunities.

What also emerged was the fact that 22% of employers in positions to place these women in jobs overseas disputed that there was an inequality in opportunity. The exact same percentage agreed that their companies’ global mobility and diversity strategy were aligned, and the same 22% reported being active toward increasing the number of women in their international mobile populations.

What’s causing the divide and the current underrepresentation of women in the global workforce?

Respondents to the two surveys reported three significant barriers.

No Clear Vision

Saying you want the company to embrace international mobility and knowing how to execute the strategy are two totally different things. It’s key to start by knowing which employees actually want to snap up those assignments.


Unfortunately, 45% of organizations responding to the survey have no clear view of employees who are willing to move. Employees of both genders were frustrated by this. Just over a third of women and 22% of men reported this as being a barrier.

“On a positive note, this is a process rather than a behavioral barrier, meaning process interventions can be put in place to mitigate it,” the researchers write.

No Role Models

It’s a common refrain among women and underrepresented minorities in the workplace: It’s tough to advance when you don’t see anyone like you in a position of leadership. It’s no different with global mobility.

The lack of female role models ranked as the second highest barrier to having women in international leadership positions by both women (35%) and leaders of both genders (34%).

“Given that women are vastly underrepresented in organisations’ internationally mobile populations, this barrier will remain a challenge that cannot be fixed overnight,” the researchers write.

The Mommy Problem

The top stumbling block for both genders is the persistent stereotype that women with families don’t want to uproot them to take on an international assignment. Forty-three percent of men and the same percentage of women ranked this as a top barrier, while global mobility leaders ranked it third.


This may be because the overwhelming majority (70%) of both men and women equally agreed that the best time to undertake an assignment during their career was before they have children. But it’s important to note that 41% of women surveyed who do have children wanted to take on a move, compared with 40% of men.

There was an additional finding that’s worth pointing out: Only 17% of women relocated with children, compared to 40% of men among the respondents who already completed international assignments. Also, 63% of those women were much more likely to have relocated on their own than men (36%).

And it’s not about the money.

Only 20% of women said they were concerned about their partner or spouse’s higher-salary income being at risk, compared to 19% of men. PwC notes that of the total 2,285 women surveyed, 82% reported being in a relationship as part of a dual-career couple, and 77% of those earn equal to or more than their partner. “So, while the risk posed to partner/spouse’s higher income may well be a challenge when deploying females,” the researchers say, “it will equally be a challenge when deploying men.”

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.