How the gender gap is reflected in mobility

Women are largely overlooked when it comes to mobility opportunities, which puts both talented women and the companies that hire them at a disadvantage

Gender equality in the workplace is an ongoing battle for HR professionals, particularly in certain sectors. In the mobility world, the focus is on bringing more female candidates into consideration for positions abroad, to advance their careers and foster diversity among future business leaders.

How big is the problem in the UK?

In a new report from Topia and Wakefield Research called Mobility in Focus: Identifying the Talent-Mobility Disconnect the findings show companies are still not levelling the playing field between men and women.

Surveying 500 UK employees, it found that 63% of females feel less qualified for open positions abroad compared to just 43% of males. It also found that 34% of females feel less optimistic that moving abroad will advance their careers compared to 18% of males.

Unsurprisingly males are more likely to be moved around international offices – with 27% moving more than once compared to just 17% of females.

Interestingly mobility does seem to be gaining traction among younger generations. The study found that 29% of Millennials and 22% of Gen Z respondents in the UK have already been relocated to other offices more than once – this is a lot more than the 17% of Baby Boomers who have at least two decades' more experience in the world of work.

This means HR and mobility teams are clearly reacting to the needs of younger generations. However this reaction needs to also extend to include more women. Internal mobility programmes need to be inclusive, encouraging females of all ages to work abroad to advance their careers. Otherwise companies miss big opportunities to nurture great talent.

Is this crisis an epidemic or endemic in certain sectors?

Some sectors are doing better than others. The hospitality and tech industries are relatively evenly split between genders – but for different reasons. Sectors like hospitality seem to be more of an area of passion for women so there will be more female moves. On the tech side we now have an influx of younger technology companies building their visions for the future, often making gender diversity a bigger focus from the get-go to leverage the business benefits of diversity, improve retention and foster leadership growth. As a result women are more likely to acquire career-building assignments abroad.

On the other hand companies that are not capitalising on mobility as a path to investing in female talent will struggle with diversity – unable to fully take advantage of the business benefits. In the Wakefield study 90% of HR professionals noted that mobility improves business growth, agility and diversity and inclusion.

How can you solve a crisis that goes back for generations?

It’s a slow process that requires an internal cultural shift. HR and mobility teams need to collaborate with management on how to make this happen – through review of internal mobility practices, selection and screening, as well as employee support during relocation and assignment. Prioritising diversity advancement within a mobility programme requires conscientious actions from every stakeholder, not just HR.

To do this you may need to go back to the drawing board. Build and review your talent list to ensure all eligible female candidates are considered. For women to take high-profile senior positions abroad, and recognise that it will advance their career prospects, their professional development should be mapped to that goal as part of the hiring and onboarding process. Career-pathing is key.

Internal mobility programmes can be a great asset in supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives. The Wakefield Research findings confirm that companies are missing opportunities to communicate the value of assignments abroad to women, and how those opportunities can further their careers. With just a few adjustments internally, mobility and HR leaders can change the relationship between female employees and the organisation they work for.

Brynne Kennedy is founder and CEO of Topia