Are gender imbalances in foreign assignments damaging your employer brand? Are gender imbalances in foreign assignments damaging your employer brand?

Are gender imbalances in foreign assignments damaging your employer brand?
24 Nov 2017

The arena of international assignments provides a unique “test tube” environment for what is happening in the rest of the organisation. As a result, the policies and practices of multinational companies in this area can offer insights into how they tackling challenges such as the gender pay gap and diversity in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world.

In broad HR terms, pay and diversity issues in the workplace have gained significantly in profile over the last year. Across Europe, the US and beyond, organisations of all sizes are readying themselves to cope with statutory requirements for disclosing gender pay differences and to explore why such differences may exist.

Current thinking suggests there are four main areas that contribute to this gap:

• Historical job segregation and ‘woman’s work’
• Impact of family/caring
• Lack of part-time flexible work in better paid positions
• Lack of women in senior roles.

But studies have also shown that historically gendered behaviours in relation to international assignments may likewise contribute to the gap. For example, men tend to take more risks than their female counterparts and so are often prepared to go to potentially more challenging locations.

And such an approach often pays dividends. Working in potentially higher growth markets that offer more opportunities frequently provides males with greater scope for career development. This is because they earn higher levels of “career capital” from their gamble.

Such findings are evidenced in research conducted by international HR and global mobility networking and information-sharing group, The RES Forum, which has more than 1,000 members based in over 40 countries around the world. The Forum surveyed its members about their diversity practices and included the findings in its 2016 Annual Report, which was written by Michael Dickmann, professor of international HR management at Cranfield University’s School of Management.

Gender imbalance

The Report highlights the fact that men’s careers are more likely to benefit from an international assignment than women who have been through the same process. But an even more concerning point is that females are severely underrepresented as international assignees in the first place – even though evidence from elsewhere suggests that lots of women would be keen to work abroad.

This situation implies that companies would be well advised to take proactive steps to encourage a better gender balance in global mobility terms, not least because:

• Finding suitable female candidates and motivating them to agree to work abroad is more difficult than it is for male assignees, even though female and male assignees are generally treated equally once they are there
• Many multinationals do not have a broad range of flexible working policies and practices in place, but introducing them could encourage more women to relocate overseas, thus helping to redress the current gender imbalance
• Early repatriation, be it as a result of poor performance or personal request, is less pronounced among females than males
• The short- and long-term effects of working abroad are very positive for women. Once they go down this route, they are promoted faster, achieve higher performance ratings and obtain better rewards than their peers. But males still benefit substantially more from their overseas assignment per se.

As for gender pay gaps relating to international assignments, do they actually exist and if so, do they affect an employer’s reputation in a different way to, say, a domestic pay gap? The truth is it depends.

If mobility is a key part of your employee value proposition, the existence of a pay gap for international assignees can reduce the value of your employer brand. If you are using international assignments and career opportunities as an incentive to attract potential job candidates, such considerations should not be dismissed lightly.

“If mobility is a key part of your employee value proposition, the existence of a pay gap for international assignees can reduce the value of your employer brand.”

The VUCA effect

Political unrest, terrorism or armed conflict do not just dominate the news these days. They are also key factors to think about when designing and implementing global mobility programmes.

Environmental situations such as global warming, tsunamis or insufficient harvest yields/famines, for example, all add to the volatility of organisations’ operating environments and increase uncertainty. But according to the Forum’s findings, there are several key ways to deal with such situations:

• Avoid hostile operating environments by withdrawing/not operating in the country concerned
• Plan and practice emergency responses to crises
• Provide managers with training to help them analyse VUCA issues and integrate them into decision-making
• Design flexible and targeted global mobility strategies, policies and practices for groups of international assignees to ensure they are managed efficiently and cost-effectively
• Prepare international assignees more effectively to deal with hostile environments
• Use virtual teams in hostile contexts to minimise the amount of time international assignees have to spend there.

Global organisations are constantly devising new ways to attract, recruit and manage their staff. They are going after greater diversity within their operations and are generally keen to encourage their employees to pursue international careers.

But the realities of operating in a VUCA world are now starting to shape global mobility practices and are likely to have an impact on HR, pay and benefits practices in future. At the very least, there is already a rethink going on in relation to rewards and recognition, with the expectation being that more individual tailoring will take place around assignment compensation, benefits and the like. So that’s definitely something to think about.

 

Heather Hughes joined the RES Forum as general manager at the start of 2013. She has over 12 years experience of working in the fields of international mobility and compensation and benefits, and has worked at IBM and the Lloyd’s Register among others both inhouse and on behalf of various outsourcing providers.

The arena of international assignments provides a unique “test tube” environment for what is happening in the rest of the organisation. As a result, the policies and practices of multinational companies in this area can offer insights into how they tackling challenges such as the gender pay gap and diversity in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world.

In broad HR terms, pay and diversity issues in the workplace have gained significantly in profile over the last year. Across Europe, the US and beyond, organisations of all sizes are readying themselves to cope with statutory requirements for disclosing gender pay differences and to explore why such differences may exist.

Current thinking suggests there are four main areas that contribute to this gap:

• Historical job segregation and ‘woman’s work’
• Impact of family/caring
• Lack of part-time flexible work in better paid positions
• Lack of women in senior roles.

But studies have also shown that historically gendered behaviours in relation to international assignments may likewise contribute to the gap. For example, men tend to take more risks than their female counterparts and so are often prepared to go to potentially more challenging locations.

And such an approach often pays dividends. Working in potentially higher growth markets that offer more opportunities frequently provides males with greater scope for career development. This is because they earn higher levels of “career capital” from their gamble.

Such findings are evidenced in research conducted by international HR and global mobility networking and information-sharing group, The RES Forum, which has more than 1,000 members based in over 40 countries around the world. The Forum surveyed its members about their diversity practices and included the findings in its 2016 Annual Report, which was written by Michael Dickmann, professor of international HR management at Cranfield University’s School of Management.

Gender imbalance

The Report highlights the fact that men’s careers are more likely to benefit from an international assignment than women who have been through the same process. But an even more concerning point is that females are severely underrepresented as international assignees in the first place – even though evidence from elsewhere suggests that lots of women would be keen to work abroad.

This situation implies that companies would be well advised to take proactive steps to encourage a better gender balance in global mobility terms, not least because:

• Finding suitable female candidates and motivating them to agree to work abroad is more difficult than it is for male assignees, even though female and male assignees are generally treated equally once they are there
• Many multinationals do not have a broad range of flexible working policies and practices in place, but introducing them could encourage more women to relocate overseas, thus helping to redress the current gender imbalance
• Early repatriation, be it as a result of poor performance or personal request, is less pronounced among females than males
• The short- and long-term effects of working abroad are very positive for women. Once they go down this route, they are promoted faster, achieve higher performance ratings and obtain better rewards than their peers. But males still benefit substantially more from their overseas assignment per se.

As for gender pay gaps relating to international assignments, do they actually exist and if so, do they affect an employer’s reputation in a different way to, say, a domestic pay gap? The truth is it depends.

If mobility is a key part of your employee value proposition, the existence of a pay gap for international assignees can reduce the value of your employer brand. If you are using international assignments and career opportunities as an incentive to attract potential job candidates, such considerations should not be dismissed lightly.

“If mobility is a key part of your employee value proposition, the existence of a pay gap for international assignees can reduce the value of your employer brand.”

The VUCA effect

Political unrest, terrorism or armed conflict do not just dominate the news these days. They are also key factors to think about when designing and implementing global mobility programmes.

Environmental situations such as global warming, tsunamis or insufficient harvest yields/famines, for example, all add to the volatility of organisations’ operating environments and increase uncertainty. But according to the Forum’s findings, there are several key ways to deal with such situations:

• Avoid hostile operating environments by withdrawing/not operating in the country concerned
• Plan and practice emergency responses to crises
• Provide managers with training to help them analyse VUCA issues and integrate them into decision-making
• Design flexible and targeted global mobility strategies, policies and practices for groups of international assignees to ensure they are managed efficiently and cost-effectively
• Prepare international assignees more effectively to deal with hostile environments
• Use virtual teams in hostile contexts to minimise the amount of time international assignees have to spend there.

Global organisations are constantly devising new ways to attract, recruit and manage their staff. They are going after greater diversity within their operations and are generally keen to encourage their employees to pursue international careers.

But the realities of operating in a VUCA world are now starting to shape global mobility practices and are likely to have an impact on HR, pay and benefits practices in future. At the very least, there is already a rethink going on in relation to rewards and recognition, with the expectation being that more individual tailoring will take place around assignment compensation, benefits and the like. So that’s definitely something to think about.

 

Heather Hughes joined the RES Forum as general manager at the start of 2013. She has over 12 years experience of working in the fields of international mobility and compensation and benefits, and has worked at IBM and the Lloyd’s Register among others both inhouse and on behalf of various outsourcing providers.

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