South-Western - Management  
Don't Fence Her In
Topic Global Management
Key Words global, expatriates, women, foreign assignments
InfoTrac Reference A71969370
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News Story

Women are only 14 percent of the expatriates working for U.S. companies, but they make up nearly 50 percent of the middle management pool from which international assignments are drawn. One study found that even though women rejected foreign assignments no more often than men did, supervisors believed women weren't interested or wouldn't work out in international assignments. When supervisors have negative attitudes about the suitability of women in these positions, they are less likely to communicate the availability of international positions to women. In one survey, while management assumed that men would be interested in expatriate assignments, women had to ask to be considered for an international job.

Sometimes, the issue is the host country's cultural attitudes about women. In some countries, workers may refuse to acknowledge women during meetings or question decisions. Women may be forced to alter their attire, or go out in public only with their husbands because local culture prohibits women being seen with other men. However, these cultural issues do not necessarily prevent women from succeeding once they prove their competence.

One person suggests that an expatriate faces more prejudice as an American coming from a corporate office than as a female.

Male spouses of female expatriates encounter more problems than female spouses. Spouses of female expatriates are more likely to work and often encounter problems finding employment. Corporate support and social arrangements for spouses are generally geared toward women.

An employer who wishes to expand the number of women in expatriate assignments may follow this advice:

  1. Don't make assumptions about a person's willingness to go, and keep asking even if the answer is no the first time.
  2. Develop a pool of talent who have expressed interest in international assignments.
  3. Use successful female expatriates to recruit others.
  4. Be flexible about timing.
  5. Provide employment assistance for the trailing spouse.
  6. Address social needs to combat loneliness.
  7. Provide mentors.
  8. Plan for the employee's return.

To make the experience more positive and attractive to women, the following are suggested:

  1. Provide information packs on the host country.
  2. Educate about the host country's culture.
  3. Offer flexible benefits.
  4. Offer services to help set up the household.
  5. Help build social networks.
  6. Use gender neutral terms when referring to the trailing spouse.
  7. Provide a checklist.

What qualifications should a manager look for when considering a woman for an international job?


Create a questionnaire and interview someone who has worked in a foreign assignment. Include questions about gender differences. Summarize the interview. What did you learn?


Research the success rates for male and female expatriates. Summarize your findings and draw conclusions.

Source Kathryn Tyler, "Don't Fence Her In," HR Magazine March, 2001, p. 70.
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