How to encourage women to become expatriates? 

December 19, 2019

Are you looking at the diversity statistics within your organisation’s expat assignees? If your business is anything like the global average, they may make for stark reading. 

This is especially frustrating if the diversity levels across your organisation as a whole have been improving.  

The most recent research by Mercer indicated that only about 14% of the expatriate workforce is female. Although this survey showed a lower percentage than others, this is explained by the wide participation base. Participants came from developed and emerging economies and included industries with a low percentage of female participation. 

Much like encouraging female expat leadership, a multifaceted approach to encouraging women to apply for expatriate roles within your organisation is required:


Management training: 

Make management aware of the unique benefits women in expat roles provide. These include providing a different point of view from the status quo, improved teamwork and better communication skills than male counterparts. Unconscious bias training will also help those in senior roles avoid accidentally discriminating against female candidates based on personality or social norms. 


Consider the needs of the expat family:

In many companies, expat programmes are designed with male candidates in mind. Although provision may be made for a family, it may be on the assumption that there will be a trailing spouse. If needed, update your expat programme to cater for all kinds of families. Make sure no-one in your organisation feels discouraged from applying by providing support for one parent, LGBT and two parent working families.


Be flexible: 

There are many ways in which incorporating flexibility into your expat programme may encourage more females to apply for expatriate roles. You will know what will work best for your business For example, you may need to shorten the duration of assignments, allow expats to work close to home or complete some of the assignment virtually. Meeting the differing needs of women from different cultures will go some way towards encouraging them to apply to an assignment abroad. Companies in the UAE are encouraging more female participation in expat assignments by allowing a family member to travel with them.  

Having more female applicants for expat roles is only part one of the process. The role should go to the person best able to do the job, irrespective of gender. However, you can help to level the playing field by providing the women in your organisation with the tools they need to excel. 


Provide women with leadership skills/training:

A combination of nature and nurture can prevent some women from performing as well in the selection process as they might. Women are sometimes judged in society in a way that male counterparts are not. Often the expectation of what it takes to be a good leader conflicts with expected behaviour by a woman. Provide training to identify and overcome these difficulties. Leadership training should also highlight the unique traits women possess and how they can be used successfully in an expatriate role.


Create a career plan for employees:

Ensure as many employees as possible within your organisation have a career plan. The benefit of this is twofold. It sets your business’ expectations around what an employee should be achieving but it also provides a clear path of progression for that employee. This is likely to assist with retention. If that path includes completion of an expatriate assignment, it may encourage employees to accept a role. 


Have a mentorship programme that shows the value of expatriate experience:

As part of their career plan, employees should have a formal or informal mentor. Ideally have ex-expatriates mentor employees you would like to see gain experience working abroad. This will allow them to share any concerns they have and get a realistic idea of what working abroad might be like for them. 

Ensure all the expats working for your company have access to the international healthcare they may need by protecting them with international health insurance