Record number of female expats

17th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

As the female expat population soars, multinational companies are criticised for failing to keep pace with the needs of international assignees.

A record number of women are being sent on international assignments, but they are far less likely to be accompanied by a partner than male expats, a new survey has found.

The survey, by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, found that companies in Asia-Pacific have 16 times more females on assignment this year than they did in 2001.

Companies in North America have nearly four times as many, while those in Europe have more than twice as many.

"The huge growth in the number of females sent on assignment by Asia-Pacific companies reflects the fact that businesses in this region, particularly in China, are becoming increasingly global," Sonsino said.

Some 55 percent of the companies expect the number of female expats to keep rising steadily over the next five years, while 35 percent believe the number will remain the same. Just 4 percent believe it will decline.

The survey involved more than 100 multinational companies with nearly 17,000 male and female expats.

'Outdated' policies

Despite the increase in the number of female expats, companies have been criticised for failing to meet the needs of a changing global workforce.
"Going on expatriate placements can be an important step on the career ladder and women are increasingly interested in taking these assignments," Yvonne Sonsino, Principal at Mercer Human Resource Consulting, said.

"Yet many companies' policies are outdated and do not reflect the changing profile of their expatriates, so assignees' requirements are dealt with on a case-by-case basis."

Though the companies surveyed generally do not have separate policies for female expatriates, the study found some differentiation in the treatment of male and female assignees.

For example, 15 percent of companies said they would not send women to hardship locations such as the Middle East.

Partners left at home

Mercer said female expats are more likely than males to leave their partners at home when sent on assignment.

More than half (57 percent) of companies said the majority of their male assignees are accompanied by a partner, but just 16 percent said most of their female expatriates are.

The survey also found female expats are less likely than men to have a partner prior to going on assignment.

While 74 percent of companies said the majority of their male assignees had partners before going on assignment, only 25 percent of companies said this was the case among female expats.

"Studies suggest partners of successful women also tend to have high-powered careers," Sonsino said.

"When a woman is offered an international assignment, their partner may be less willing to make career concessions to accompany them.

"This may strengthen the need for companies to have well-defined spouse support policies which include assistance for the partner in finding work."

Little support for partners

Two-thirds of companies (66 percent) provide no incentives or support to help partners settle in the host location, the survey found.

Where support is available, it is usually only given when specifically requested. For example, only 7 percent of companies offer partners information on the local job market, though 37 percent said they would provide it if asked.

"An unhappy spouse can often cause an assignment to fail, so not spending money on support services can be a false economy for companies," Sonsino said.

"While integrating partners into the local community may take time and money, it can ultimately pay off."

Single parents

In the survey, 12 percent of companies said they have female expats who are single parents, yet only 4 percent provide additional support to this group of assignees.

"Expatriate programmes are simply not designed to cope with providing support for single parents. There is an increasing need for companies to update their policies in this area," Sonsino said.

October 2006

[Copyright Expatica 2006]

Subject: female expats, international assignees, Mercer survey

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