Experts say: send women on international assignments

Experts say: send women on international assignments

25th November 2011, Comments 1 comment

An international expert has revealed that fewer than 20 percent of women are given international assignments in business, despite being better equipped to handle the pressures of working abroad.

At a seminar held in September at Macquarie University and attended by management leaders from across Australia, Dr Rosalie L. Tung (pictured) presented her findings on the complexity of doing business in Asia and dispelled myths related to women in international assignments.

Tung said the alarming statistic is perpetuated by a three-pronged myth, namely:

- Women don't want overseas assignments (due to family considerations)
- Other countries don't want female expatriates in business dealings
- Women lack the skills/competencies to succeed

In her studies, Tung found no difference between men and women in supervisor-rated performance and instances of early-return from a posting. However, she did find that women encountered more problems related to adjustment, explained by the lack of support systems in place.

In fact, Tung's studies have shown female managers were better able to cope with isolation abroad, because women place greater emphasis on harmony and cooperation in their interactions with local people.

Her studies have led her to suggest that female expatriates may in fact be the ‘model' global manager. Additionally, she said that it is important to recognise that not all countries high on the gender inequality index behave in the same manner, and tailored training and support is the key to successful postings.

Her seminar also highlighted the significant role that host country ethnocentrism can play in affecting expatriate success, if proper support mechanisms are not in place.

Corporate support, she concluded, not just for the expatriate but also for the hosts, is integral when companies decide to send a female on international assignments.

Tung told Human Capital that corporate support may include:

- Very clearly articulated information sessions.
- Support in terms of the decisions made by female managers.
- The establishment of good overseas networks, such as women's executive clubs.
- Lists of associates should be regularly updated, especially in countries experiencing widespread growth in expatriate populations (such as in China and India).
- Personal assistance on the ground from a knowledgeable colleague or personal assistant.
- Proper introductions, where qualifications are clearly and specifically articulated.

Tung is Professor of International Business at Simon Fraser University in Canada, a visiting professor at Harvard University and University of California - Los Angeles, and has served on the United Nations Task Force on Human Resource Management.

Stephanie Zillman / Human Capital Magazine

1 Comment To This Article

  • Mirella Visser posted:

    on 30th November 2011, 15:50:50 - Reply

    Very important research into this topic. Still too few women aspire assignments abroad whereas these are crucial in developing leadership skills, especially for senior management positions. Foreign assignments build self-confidence and ambition and p[rovide stepping stones to career advancement.

    In addition to the listed corporate support in the article, it is necessary to provide good support for the trailing spouse/partner. Often in traditional conservative cultures role reversal for men is even less accepted than for women. This could cause serious problems for expatriate women and their personal relationships. Studies have shown a high rate of failed marriages and relationships in such cases because of high societal pressures.