The globally mobile woman: a benefit to business

March 2019

The importance to business of international assignments is well documented. Yet all too often assignees are lacking the full skillset required. And women - many of whom have much to contribute to the success of companies - are still being overlooked, making up just 25% of the international assignees, according to a new report from Learnlight Insights, which quotes from various expert sources1.


Globally mobile women


Against this backdrop, there’s a talent gap on a global scale. In short, embracing a culture of diversity and inclusion is essential.

International assignments are due to grow by at least 50% over the next two or three years, according to PwC. And international businesses say they expect senior managers to have international experience. 

With this in mind, it’s no wonder there’s a gender imbalance at senior executive level within most organisations. A Forbes article states: “Globally, the proportion of senior business roles held by women stands at 24%”.

This comes in spite of evidence from Catalyst, which shows that a higher representation of women on company Boards equates to higher financial performance.

  • 53% return on equity
  • 42% return on sales
  • 66% return on invested capital


Ready, willing & able
It would be easy to dismiss the lack of female assignees as reluctance on their part. However, evidence shows this not to be the case:

  • 69% of women say “I would like to work outside my home country during my career”
  • 63% say “I feel international experience is critical to further my career”

On top of this, international assignments are very expensive to organise, so it pays to get the right people for the job. 

Whereas, in the past, assignees were usually selected for their technical skills (in addition to “the old boys club”), it’s now understood that soft skills are equally – if not more – important. 

The ideal future assignee: key characteristics
It’s often stated that only 20% of job success is down to technical skills – 80% comes from soft skills. These include cultural adaptability, leadership, flexibility, emotional intelligence, global curiosity, language skills, patience, giving feedback, extreme organisation and tolerance of ambiguity.

There needs to be a balance between the ability to get started on work immediately and taking the time to understand the cultural norms of the local office. It’s only through the latter that it’s possible to drive forward change in an unfamiliar environment.

As summed up by Learnlight: “Organisations must trade internationally to grow, so having a core cadre of globally-minded leaders is vital. And the only way to have global talent is to give them international experience.....Organisations that are unable to move past outdated subconscious attitudes towards race and gender will be put in the same box as Betamax video”.


1 Global mobility in the age of diversity, Learnlight Insights, Feb 2018