Eight Major Barriers to Expat Spouse Employment

We thought we should pull together the main reasons according to our experience that hinder Expat Spouse employment  in the host country. This is a non-scientific analysis based on opinions and experience. There are a number of studies (Permits Foundation, 2012; Silberbauer, 2015) dedicated to the topic though. Main Global Mobility providers research how family impacts expat failure. In my view this is not enough. We should investigate how we can bring down the barriers to Expat Spouse employment. Why is it so difficult for Expat Spouses to find work in the host country? Here is a short analysis of the issues.

Work Permit Restrictions

Finding a job is not as straightforward for many of my clients as it is in their home countries. Even if most top host locations allow Expat Spouses to work on the partner’s dependent work permit (NetExpat & EY, 2018), other countries present significant restrictions to Expat Spouse employment. In fact, while some of them do not issue work permits to any Expat Spouses at all, others may present subtleties linked to marital status or they might not recognize same sex-marriages.

Lack of Host Language Skills

Even though the expat might work for a global company, most jobs in the host country will require host language skills. Unless you move from the UK to the USA, you often will not have the language skills required to work in the host country. It’s important that you don’t underestimate this aspect and that you start learning the local language as soon as possible, ideally before relocating. The good news is that almost two thirds of employers already provide this as the main form of assistance (Permits Foundation, 2012). If there is a business need, companies generally pay for a 60 hour-course.

Additionally, in countries where expats are numero there are specific job search engines that filter for English speaking roles. If you are looking to find employment in the Swiss job market, you can look up www.englishforum.ch.

Lack of Recognition of University Degrees in Regulated Fields

While within the EU we can assume that university degrees will be recognized due to the common job market, a Brazilian doctor cannot work in a hospital in Switzerland. We call this a “regulated profession”.

In the best case scenario, you will need to go through a considerable amount of bureaucracy to get your degree converted, and this may cost you a good amount of money. In the worst case scenario, however, if you want to keep practicing your profession, you will have to get complementary certificates in the host country.

Lack of Transferable Knowledge

While within the EU we can assume that university degrees will be recognized due to the common job market, a Brazilian doctor cannot work in a hospital in Switzerland. We call this a “regulated profession”.

In the best case scenario, you will need to go through a considerable amount of bureaucracy to get your degree converted, and this may cost you a good amount of money. In the worst case scenario, however, if you want to keep practicing your profession, you will have to get complementary certificates in the host country.

Lack of Professional Networks

Another issue is the lack of a professional network, which gives access to the untapped and informal labor market in the host country. Often you can only join professional associations when you are in a corporate role or when you have graduated in the country.

Building your professional network in your host country will require time and trust. You will have to start from scratch and dedicate a considerable amount of time to this activity if you want to see good results. You will also need to understand that matters of trust and relationships are culturally different, so it’s important that you act in a culturally appropriate manner when attempting to expand your professional network.

Lack of Support in the Global Mobility Policy

Only very forward thinking global mobility and global recruiting policies address the need for support for “trailing” dual career partner. While ten years ago dual-career issues on international assignments were solved by sticking to a classical Western nuclear “family” models, we now want to adhere to the needs of dual careers, patchwork families, Eastern “family” models, same-sex partners and unmarried de-facto relationships.

Visionary Global Mobility policies address various support models ranging from providing a lump sum to spousal career coaching. As an intercultural career advisor, I also work with clients who decide to start a global, transferable business so that they can follow their life partner to other locations and become location-independent. Thanks to technology I can support clients in NYC as well as in Mumbai. We also support candidates to improve their personal branding in the host market, learn to network effectively, improve their interview skills and online presentations. But it’s crucial that Global Mobility Leaders  update their policies and promote spouse support services rather than pay lump sums.

Intercultural Bias of Our Recruiters

Our recruiters often do not understand intercultural differences. Recruiters often don’t understand resumes from another country and outsourcing of talent specialists into HR shared service centers has not improved the chances of “foreign” candidates in the recruitment process.

Most selection methods and assessments are culturally biased. For example, in Switzerland, psychometric testing and other assessments of candidates are used to assess candidates next to interviews. Riedel (2015) shows examples where highly skilled candidates from China fell through the assessment roster in a German company because of their indirect communication style.

Companies should provide training on Inclusion and Diversity in the attempt to eliminate unconscious biases and ensure all worthy candidates are being considered for global mobility. This practice is not yet spread. According to KPMG, 39% of employees surveyed aren’t aware of inclusive leadership training within their organizations.

Unconscious Bias of Sending Home Sponsors

PwC issued a study in 2016 on female expatriation where it appears very obvious that a lot more women would be interested in an international assignment than the ones that are actually sent. As a matter of fact, some types of assignments (like short-term, very short-term, and fly-in and out commuter assignments) are notably more popular among women than among men.

If women make up 20% only (PwC, 2016) of the internationally mobile population across all sectors, it’s probably due to the unconscious bias of the sending home sponsors who assume a female manager is not mobile even though she might have mentioned it several times. I speak from experience.

If you want to guarantee that the selection of women and other underrepresented groups is fair and objective, you need to measure the relative inclusiveness of mobility assignments and ensure policies on equal access are working. If you find out they are not working, intervene as soon as possible.

Lack of Research to Measure Impact of Dual-Career Programs

In 2012, ETH Zurich conducted extensive research with several European universities on barriers to dual careers within the EU and EFTA countries. For most companies (NetExpat & EY, 2018; Atlas World Group, 2019) the presence of dual-career couples negatively affects the decision to relocate. There’s more: the spouse’s unwillingness to move because of his or her career is the first reason for turning down relocation. After all, it’s 2020, and the increasing number of households relying on two salaries should not surprise us. While in the past, small firms were relatively less affected by spouse/partner’s employment than medium and big firms, in more recent times, the impact has been similar across company size. 

There is evidently still a lot to do in order to integrate the needs of dual-career couples  in the expatriation process. If you want to keep pace with reality and stand out with a far-reaching Global Mobility policy, please keep this issue top priority. 

On the receiving end, I can report that more and more expat spouses are male. There is hope.

If you want to see how all this works in practice and would like to receive a proposal from us, please drop a line to Angie Weinberger (angela@globalpeopletransitions.com). I am happy to support you!

Further Readings: 

https://www.sirva.com/learning-center/blog/2019/12/20/supporting-accompanying-spouses-partners-during-relocation

Why Building Professional Relationships is Harder for You

The Modern Professional’s Guide to Avoiding Career Stagnation

My favourite Productivity Hacks – Seven Tips to claim back your Diary

Global Recruiting – Helping Global Talents succeed in Switzerland

Offline and Online Presence is the Way Forward for Modern Professionals

References:

Atlas World Group. (2019). 52nd Annual Atlas Corporate Relocation Survey. https://www.atlasvanlines.com/AtlasVanLines/media/Corporate-Relo-Survey/PDFs/2019survey.pdf

KPMG. (2018). Inclusion and Diversity: How Global Mobility can help move the Needle. KPMG International. https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle-FINAL.pd

NetExpat & EY. (2018). Relocating Partner Survey Report. https://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report/$File/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report.pdf

Permits Foundation. (2012). International Mobility and Dual-Career Survey of International Employers. https://www.permitsfoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Permits+Global+Survey+2012nw.pdf 

PwC. (2016). Women of the world: Aligning gender diversity and international mobility in financial services. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf

Riedel, Tim (2015): “Internationale Personalauswahl”, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Gottingen.

Silberbauer, K. (2015). Benefits of dual-career support for expat spouses, International Journal of Business and Management, vol 3, no. 2. DOI: 10.20472/BM.2015.3.2.005

Weinberger, A. (2019). “The Global Mobility Workbook”, Global People Transitions, Zurich.

Weinberger, A. (2016). “The Global Career Workbook”, Global People Transitions, Zurich.

Changing Lives – Why it is important that you find your Purpose in Life!
Globe and Covid19

Starting a business (and keep running it) is hard work. I mean hard! But it is all worth the time, money, and effort invested in the end for those who have a passion, a plan, and a reliable support system. It’s going to be a rollercoaster ride, though. Between the rewarding highs of seeing the spark of interest in a student’s eyes or the genuinely thankful client, you were able to help. Then, there are the lows of the stress and responsibilities that come with being an entrepreneur, and you might wonder if you did the right thing or if you are going to make it. But the freedom to focus your energy on what you have most at heart allows you to grow, live for your purpose and live from it too!

It requires a lot of discipline, physical and mental fitness, and friends who will not leave you if you have not been in touch for more than a week. You need a life partner and family who is entirely behind your decision, and you need to be prepared to work harder than ever. After almost ten years of building and running an offline and online business with freelancers in different locations and a diverse client base, I consider myself a pro.

A few years back, the business was drained, and the savings were used up. I had invested in two additional courses. 

I was ready to give up and get a full-time job.

I even said “yes” to a full-time job offer. But then “fate” kicked in. In a very relaxed moment during our first RockMeRetreat, I knew the answer was a clear “No.” 

I was not ready to start a full-time job in a leadership role again, where I would spend all my energy on maneuvering politics, playing the game, coaching a team, and sitting at a desk for more than six hours a day.

Yes, I was very disappointed when the company told me that they wanted to hire somebody else. I was down and scared, but at the same time, I was relieved. And I knew this feeling. It was the freedom smell

Deep down inside, I knew that I will always fall back on my feet and have all the skills within me to make a living. I once again felt the fear (and did it anyway). (There’s a book about that).

This post is not a pep talk on how we should leap out of our comfort zone and fight for survival daily because this adrenaline level is not suitable in the long run. We only need this kind of adrenaline in an actual emergency during a tornado or a pandemic, but not every day for years on end. A job is great. A paycheck is wonderful. A sick day is sensational. A sponsored coffee is amazing. A paid holiday is fantastic. Burnout isn’t. 

You probably wonder how you keep the energy drainers out of your work environment, and my advice about this is a simple one: Focus on your well-being first. Focus on that as long as you need, stop eating junk food, walk regularly, stop working after six hours and change your routine to fit your life. Most of the issues we have at work come from our fear of not being enough. We overcompensate. You might think that you need to achieve that next level, subsequent promotion, or next salary band. Then you will have a wonderful life. But let me be honest with you: There is a price you pay for that. And this price might not be what you are looking for right now.

I am in favor of abandoning many of the typical HR systems. Let us give our people the benefit of the doubt again and help them find their intrinsic motivation. We should help them work on projects where they can thrive, help them develop client relationships they will find engaging, and above all, we should change lives. Passion is a better driver than security for entrepreneurs as employees. 

And if you doubt now how you can help your team get to that level, we should have a conversation. I would say first of all: Everybody still has a ton to learn in this world. 

Understanding that we are always learning is the first step toward growth. Many people, especially women, need help to find the confidence to move ahead. In Switzerland, many women grew up in a male-dominated environment where they learned to work more than their peers to be recognized, and when they tried to move up the ladder and had to show their teeth.

Then a manager told them that they were too aggressive and too pushy.

They started to have self-doubts and fell into a complacent state where moving up was no longer an option. I know many excellent women with the busy-bee and Aschenbroedel-syndrome. They run their departments silently in the background, while a  male colleague gets the bonus and the honors. They start initiatives and get criticized. They speak out in meetings and someone else picks up the thread and everyone applauds the other guy.

We can all do our share to help them thrive. Sometimes an encouraging hug or a pep talk during lunch or a job referral might just be what they need. 

My team and I started helping more diverse women. We work with women from developing countries, women with more seniority, and women from minority backgrounds. 

Whatever their backgrounds, women with young children also face obstacles and prejudice in the labor market. Managers often assume they will miss work when their children are sick or that they will leave early. 

I’m ashamed to say that, but we diligently exclude certain people from the workforce here in Switzerland, depriving them of the fundamental right to work. It’s not always intentional, but we cannot always blame unconscious bias for our decisions. Some companies forgo excellent candidates because the humans who make up that company cannot move beyond their prejudice about women (even more so if they come from developing countries, have young children, have gaps in their resume, or are LGBTQ+, or disabled). 

It is frequent for people with a refugee background who cannot produce the required papers and certificates for specific jobs to face many challenges when accessing the job market. People suffering from mental health problems such as depression and talents who might be on the autism spectrum or have schizophrenia face numerous barriers when searching for a job. 

We might not be able to create a significant groundswell today and start a revolution, BUT we can change lives, one person at a time. Join us in our mission. We’re on a mission to bring the Human Touch back into Global Mobility.

The Rise of Women in Global Mobility – Seven Obstacles and Six Solutions
Rise of Women

Picture this scenario: a leading multinational company must select somebody with the right skills to establish its first overseas division and has two equally strong candidates. Alice just got married and, in their best intentions but without consulting her, leadership decides that she would not like to go on assignment as she is likely to be starting a family. The opportunity is therefore offered to George. 

What do Alice and George think twelve months later? 

Alice and her husband wanted to get the wedding out of the way so that she could pursue her dream of going on an international assignment. She was shocked about not even being consulted. But it all worked out for her: she is now working overseas for one of their competitors and is very happy in her role.

The company’s decision came at the worst time for George. He and his wife were about to announce their first pregnancy to their families.  But he still said “yes” to the opportunity and eventually convinced his wife to give it a try. It was, however, very tough on her: She was sick throughout the pregnancy, and when the baby was born, she had no support network. This situation also impacted George’s performance which was disappointing compared to his pre-assignment performance. For this reason, the company decided to bring him back. 

I bet it’s not the first time you have faced this scenario. Wrong assumptions and stereotypes are, in fact, one of the reasons why women continue to be highly under-represented within the expat population

Though we have to mention a few positive developments that make the prospect of the rise of women in Global Mobility look somewhat brighter. Take policy and awareness, for example. In 2011, only 12% of CEOs saw poor retention of female talent as a key business challenge, and only 11% were planning policy changes to attract and retain more female workers (PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey). Yet, only five years later, 64% of CEOs worldwide confirm that they finally have a diversity strategy, and 13% plan to adopt one over the next 12 months (Pwc, 2016a).

What’s to Celebrate?

When we look at data, it’s essential to break it down. For example, even if it is true that the percentage of expat women swings between just 14% and 25% (Mercer, 2017; PwC, 2016a; PwC, 2016b), we cannot bypass the significant differences between regions and industry sectors. For example, while expat women in the energy and high tech sectors are only 8-11%, the percentage for the life science sector is 23%. Companies in the service and retail sectors also tend to have a higher rate of women expats. 

Other research provides an even more optimistic picture, showing us how the proportion of expat women grew slowly but steadily from the 1980s onwards.          

Continuing on the bright side, among those employees who have already had an international experience, 47% of the female and 53% of the male respondents confirmed they had completed more than one international assignment. In addition, based on their most recent international experience, 84% of women said they would repeat a similar experience, and 93% said they would recommend an international assignment to a colleague (PwC, 2016a). 

And last but not least, 73% of women working in Financial Services believe they have the same opportunities as men to undertake international assignments at their current workplace (PwC, 2016b). This percentage is encouraging compared to the 50% of women taking part in the previous year’s millennial survey who believe that promotion is biased towards men (PwC, 2015).

Despite rejoicing over these good news, we shall keep in mind that these variations don’t influence the overall conclusions: we are still decades away from seeing the percentage of female assignees rising to 50%. In the best-case scenario, the predictions estimate this will be reached only around 2050 (Mercer, 2017).

How Can You Benefit From Having More Expat Women? 

1 – You Will Facilitate Better Assignment Selection With a Broader Talent Pool 

One of the leading mobility cost drivers is a direct consequence of the limited choice of candidates ready for assignments. Inviting more women to the club creates more options for your company and indirectly helps control costs better. The more good candidates you have, the better your selection will be and the higher the chances that you don’t have to sell an incredibly overpriced assignment package.

2 – You Will Record a Higher Assignment Success Rate

The When Women Thrive report highlights that women are perceived to have unique skills that are particularly relevant for expatriation, including flexibility and adaptability (39% vs. 20% who say men have those strengths); inclusive team management (43% vs. 20%); and emotional intelligence (24% vs. 5%.). In short, women tend to build cultural bridges better than men and work more sustainably. 

3 – You Will Not Only Attract but Also Retain Talent

Female demand for international mobility has never been higher, with 71% of female millennials wanting to work outside their home country during their careers. Also, 64% of women interviewed said that international opportunities were critical in attracting and keeping them with an employer (PwC, 2016).

To successfully attract and retain female employees, you need to have a talent brand with international experience as a core element of your employee talent proposition. 

Are you not yet convinced that more expat women add immense value to your company?  In our previous post, we give other proof of how having a more diverse expat population makes you a more profitable and valuable company. 

Seven Obstacles to the Rise of Women in Global Mobility

1 – Strategy

Like most international organizations, you too might be currently challenged with a lack of alignment between Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and Global Mobility. You should work on solving this crucial issue as soon as possible. When goals and data are discussed with Senior Management, Global Mobility Managers must have a seat at the table. 

2 – Policy

Many Global Mobility policies were initially developed for male assignees with children and a “trailing” spouse. It’s 2022, and this needs to change. Make sure your policy addresses the issues of expat women and new types of families – single parents, for example (the vast majority of them being female), or same-sex couples, for example.

3 – Nomination Process

As we mentioned in our previous post, there is still a lack of transparency over who is assigned and why. Companies often don’t have a clear overview of their employees’ willingness to be internationally mobile. And like in Alice’s and George’s stories, unconscious bias still plays a considerable (yet  invisible) role in the selection of the candidates. Because of the prevalence of stereotypes that associate women with family, female employees are usually not even asked, even if they are willing to consider an assignment abroad. I’ve been there too. If you would like to take a short journey into the unconsciously biased HR world, look at this insightful article on gender decoding. 

4 –  Non-Diverse Host Locations 

This is probably not a big issue in reality (apart from a few critical war zones and dangerous locations). The problem is rather the assumption that expat women won’t be accepted in their new role abroad because of the fixed gender roles men and women have in the host location. In fact, expat women in India automatically have a higher status than local women. And in some Muslim cultures, as long as you wear a ring implying that you are married, you can be seen as highly respectable and will be treated accordingly. 

5 – Representation

While Global Mobility Managers are often female, women don’t benefit from the same representation rate at the upper levels. This means that Senior Leaders and Executives in Global Mobility are mainly men. As a consequence, lack of awareness at the Senior Management level is an issue, and this is especially true in traditionally conservative countries.

6 – Lack of Visible Assignment Opportunities for Women

65% of female employees (Pwc, 2016a) are still unhappy with the little transparency their companies offer over the availability of opportunities for overseas assignments. 

It’s time that you make opportunities readily accessible to all, including underrepresented talent groups!

7  –  Lack of Human Touch 

The lack of Human Touch and/or previous bad Expat Experiences might stop women from actively seeking opportunities for international exposure.

HR and Global Mobility teams are often too busy focusing on the many operational aspects of the mobility program and fail to design a human-centric Global Mobility program for their expat population. 

If you haven’t started yet, do it now. Talk openly about diversity in your policies and encourage internal discussion on this topic. Communicate about role models and success stories.

Six Potential Solutions  for a More Inclusive and Diverse Global Mobility Program 

1- Set Clear Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Goals for Global Mobility

Global Mobility, together with DEI teams, need to set realistic yet challenging goals for increasing the number of female assignees AND female department heads in Global Mobility. According to KPMG (2018), only 41% of the organizations surveyed had clear DEI objectives. Without specific targets, nothing will change! 

2 –  Allow for More Flexibility by Having Different Assignment Types 

New types of assignments and flexibility are making things easier for women and employees with family responsibilities to go on assignment. As I reiterate in The Global Mobility Workbook, Global Mobility should not systematically be synonymous with traditional Long-Term Assignments. Even if those remain the preferred assignment type by both genders, women favor 6-to-12 months assignments more than men (37% vs. 29%). We can say the same for assignments shorter than three months (10% vs. 5%) as well as frequent business travels (36% vs. 32%) (PwC, 2016a).

3 – Identify and Understand What the Real Barriers are 

Do you know what the real barriers to inclusive mobility are for your workforce and organizations? If you’ve never measured how your current policies hinder women’s mobility, you should act NOW.  Stop simply assuming the barriers to gender inclusiveness and understand better where the actual issues lay. That’s why I recommend intercultural training for all Global Mobility Managers.

4 – Give More Visibility to Female Role Models

While 68% of men feel that there are enough male role models of successful expats in their organization, only 48% of women feel the same about female role models (PwC, 2016b). This negatively impacts companies’ wider female talent pool and Global Mobility programs.  Therefore, if you want to help fill the gap, take active measures to drive awareness of the positive experiences of successful expat women within your organizations. 

On page 24 of this PwC report, you can read a short and inspiring testimonial of a Tax Partner and Expat Woman role model. 

5 – Use More Gender-Inclusive Language 

Too often, Global Mobility policies still refer to their globally mobile workforce with masculine pronouns. And quite logically, the consequence is that they would make you assume that “trailing” Spouses should be female. Well, it’s 2021, and this is not the case anymore. If you want to make your program more inclusive, start by addressing your talent differently. The UN has recently published new guidelines that will definitely be useful when updating your policies too.

6 – Foster a Supportive and Inclusive Culture

It is critical for your company to move away from the restrictive gender stigmas of the past if you wish to unlock your full global workforce potential. Your ultimate challenge is to create a culture where all your employees are on board with diversity and recognize its value.

Our message is clear: Global Mobility strategies that do not fully include women will simply not deliver to their full potential.

How We Can Help you

If it all makes sense to you, but you don’t know where to start, we’re here to help. Here are four ideas on how we can do that.

  1. We deconstruct your expat nomination process and review your existing policies for inclusiveness.
  2. We improve the language you use in communication to make them gender-inclusive, and we also help you sprinkle them with “Human Touch.”
  3. We analyze your Expat Experience and identify unveiled barriers for female expats and their spouses.
  4. We facilitate transition workshops with expat women in the host country and prepare female candidates for potential expat assignments through our exclusive 1:1 Executive coaching program, RockMe!

PS: I have two more tips for you:

  1. If you are looking for a board member mandate in Switzerland, check out VRMandat and Stiftungsratsmandat. Check how they can support you.
  2. Look up these two links above if you’re trying to expand your board of directors.

Resources

https://stiftungsratsmandat.com/de/

https://www.vrmandat.com/en/

https://dorothydalton.com/2016/03/11/gender-de-coding-and-job-adverts/

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20160929-where-are-all-the-expat-women 

http://www.internationalhradviser.com/storage/downloads/Gender%20Bias%20in%20Global%20Mobility%20Developing%20Female%20Leaders%20PwC.pdf 

https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/global-hr/pages/women-expatriate-workforce.aspx

References 

KPMG. (2018). Inclusion and Diversity in Global Mobility. KPMG. https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle.pdf

Meier, O. (2019). The path to diversity. Mercer. https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/the-path-to-diversity-women-on-assignment

PwC. (2011). 14th Annual Global CEO Survey. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/ceo-survey/pdf/14th-annual-global-ceo-survey.pdf

PwC. (2015). Female millennials in financial services: Strategies for a new era of talent. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/financial-services/publications/assets/pwc-female-millennial-report-v2.pdf

PwC. (2016a). Modern Mobility: Moving women with purpose. PwC. 

https://www.pwc.com/gr/en/publications/assets/modern-mobility-moving-women-with-purpose.pdf

PwC. (2016b). Women of the world: Aligning gender diversity and international mobility in financial services. Pwc.

https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf

This is a good example of Women in Global Mobility
Riikka Virtanen Schwitter speaking during the EY “Future of Mobility” event (February 2020)

Why we need to push for more minority and female expats in Global Mobility

“We need to take a stance and stand up for minority and female talent now.”  @angieweinberger

Are you a Senior Manager, often managing globally mobile talent in your company?

How many times have you had the realization that your company’s Global Mobility Program is not diverse enough? Are you concretely working to achieve your company’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) goals, and do you foster more inclusion within your team?

Let’s see how you can actively help fill the current gap in diversity common to so many organizations.

What Is a “Diverse and Inclusive Organization”? 

An organization is diverse when it encompasses all aspects of the employees, from age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, family status, and background. However, an organization is only inclusive when minority groups are allowed and encouraged to participate in the decision-making process and to contribute to breaking the career glass ceiling. Besides being meaningless, diversity without inclusion does not drive team performance (Czerny and Steinkellner, 2009). To quote the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, “inclusive diversity is a strength.”

Why Isn’t There More Minority and Female Talent in Global Mobility?

A KPMG survey highlighted that most Global Mobility Programs do not have specific Diversity and Inclusion objectives as part of their department’s strategy. Why is that? 

According to 59% of the respondents, the reason is that candidates for international assignments are chosen by you and not the Global Mobility Team. This is true. However, this does not explain why you are not being more inclusive of minority and female talent in your selection. 

Could you not challenge your promotion and selection decisions more often? 

Another 31% consider the movement of people to new countries and cultures as diverse and inclusive by its very nature and do not think that further DE&I goals are needed. We believe this is too short-sighted and a biased view of the world. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at this stage still need affirmative action (also called positive action in the U.-K.), that is to implement policies and guidelines to correct tendencies due to bias against women or any form of minority.

You and I need to push actively to integrate more minority and female talent into our expat populations. 

What you consider a minority will depend strongly on your home base country, usually the country where your HQ is based. However, I recommend that you consider more second-generation immigrants, People of Color, and refugees.

Only 41% of the respondents say they have DE&I objectives as part of their Global Mobility strategy.

You indeed have acknowledged that meeting these goals is not easy. Here are the common challenges faced by most Global Mobility Programs.

1 – There’s a Data Gap on Most Aspects of Diversity 

Apart from gender and gender identity, there is a  scarcity of mobility-related data on most demographics (KPMG, 2018a). This makes it difficult for Global Mobility Teams to identify problem areas and find solutions related to disability status, religion, ethnicity, academic, professional, and socioeconomic backgrounds. 

2 – There Are Still Too Many Biases and Stereotypes

As you can easily guess, this issue particularly affects how women are represented within the international mobile population. Currently, women only make up 20% to 25% of it (PwC, 2016; MacLachlan, 2018), which shows how much more work is needed to fill the gap. 

The good news is that 88% of the women (PwC, 2016) feel that they need international experience to advance in their careers. The bad news is that there is a strong perception that women with children don’t want to work abroad. To make it worse, traditional mindsets still typically associate men with international assignments. 

Interestingly, however, data shows that women don’t let that impede on their career plans: 66% of women would be happy to work abroad at any stage of their career (vs. 60% for men), and only 17% of women cited the well-being and education of their children as a concern preventing them from embarking on an international assignment (vs. 22% of men).

How many times have you consciously or unconsciously assumed that someone would not be able to perform their jobs effectively due to the situation in host locations? Or that they simply would not want to go on assignment due to family constraints, for example? Before assuming, just ask. 

3 – There’s a Lack of Transparency Over Who Is Assigned and Why

Let’s look at gender again. The data speaks loud and clear, and it’s worrying. 

According to 42% of women (PwC, 2016), organizations don’t have a clear view of what employees would be willing to be internationally mobile. This means that you may be choosing from a narrower pool than necessary. 

What’s more, only 13% of women who have been on assignment said that their employer has a program that positions Global Mobility as a core part of an employee’s career plan. 

4 – There’s a Lack of Flexibility in Assignment Choices 

You might not know that shorter and more flexible short-term assignments are notably more popular among women than men (PwC, 2016). In particular, women tend to give favorable consideration to frequent business travel based in their home country, fly-in/fly-out commuter assignments, short (6-12 months), and short-term assignments. Therefore, if you expanded the list of available options, you could match a more comprehensive variety of business demands. 

5 – There’s a Lack of Diversity Among the Pool of Candidates 

In heavily male-dominated types of work, such as construction and mining, casting a wider demographic net may be impossible. Likewise, some candidates may not go after mobility opportunities because they feel out of place. This explains why, for example, women, older workers, and people with disabilities may not raise their hands for relocations to oil rigs or construction sites. At the same time, minority groups may feel discouraged because they lack role models. But why not ask those unlikely candidates? Maybe that is all it would take! So, like Sundae Bean advises in her podcast discussion with Cathy Heyne, managers should be mindful of their assumptions and simply chose the best candidates for the assignments (not the ones they think want to take the assignment).

6  – External Factors Pose Barriers Too 

The definition of family has expanded to include same-sex couples for most mobility teams — rising from 17% in 1999 to 70% currently (KPMG, 2018a). However,  attitudes and laws in many countries have not kept pace. Most countries still don’t allow same-sex marriage, and homosexual acts are illegal in at least 69 countries. According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (2021), there are still seven countries where homosexual conduct is punishable by death. There are still ways you can support your LGBTQᐩ employees. Discuss potential assignment destinations with them and their partner, make sure you and the employee understand the legal situation in order to plan accordingly, and ensure having good support in the host country.

How Can You Benefit From Being More Inclusive?

Even though it may seem that the global business case for boosting Diversity and Inclusion is clear, the reality is still shockingly stuck in the last century. I have even observed that we have gone back three steps to supporting minority and female talent in the past 25 years.

If you want to expand your global competitiveness, you need to be a pioneer of equal opportunities, promote acceptance and understanding, and highlight the value of your employees. You need more than unconscious bias training for managers. You need to establish facts. And that can only be achieved with data. Here are the four main reasons to develop D&I goals for your Global Mobility Program.

1 – You Tap Into a Bigger Pool of Resources

Establish concrete goals for sending minority and female talent and persistently work towards achieving them. You will then automatically broaden the talent pool from which the mobile population is drawn. This way, you will also help ensure that the executive pipeline reflects your customer base, developing a more diverse group of future leaders. Finally, report the data regularly to your Senior Management. Without data, nothing will change.

2- You Have Access to a Broader Range of Perspectives

It should go without saying that a broader range of backgrounds (considering all possible factors, i.e., gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, language, socio-economic classes, etc.) results in a team having a more comprehensive range of perspectives. That will successively reflect itself in better-stimulated creativity and innovation, and a team ready for all opportunities.

3 – Your Team Will Collaborate Better

It has been proven that women generally have better collaboration abilities. This heightened sense of collaboration is in part due to women’s better ability to read non-verbal cues. Better collaboration will allow improvement in many fields, among which many team processes. Researchers have observed that groups with more women tend to respect speaking turns better and are better at leveraging each team member’s knowledge and competencies. 

4 – You Control Costs Better

One of the leading mobility cost drivers is not related to pay packages and policies per se but because companies often have a limited choice of candidates for assignments. A broader talent pool facilitates assignment success and indirectly helps control costs. You depend less on one candidate and can negotiate better packages if you have a broader pool. You probably also have better candidates if you have more than one in the pipeline. Another way hiring minorities and women will benefit you financially is that happy and respected employees tend to be more loyal and easy to retain; that, in turn, saves you time, money and energy in the hiring and training process. Do bear in mind that hiring them is a good starting point, but not sufficient in itself: you have to treat them well and not be afraid to admonish sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, etc. in the office or anywhere, for that matter!

5 – You Improve Your Brand and Reputation as an Employer of Choice

Nowadays, having international experience is a precondition to reaching top managerial levels within many multinational companies. Employees develop essential skills and build a network that boosts their careers immensely. It’s therefore crucial that you promote mobility as part of your talent brand. If you do that, you will also be advantaged when competing for minority and female talent. Offering international opportunities to minority and female talent will put you ahead of the competition by showing in your reviews. You will become renowned as an “Employer of Choice.” 

If you feel you belong to one of the mentioned groups and you might need more support in order to have a breakthrough in your career you can always contact me for individual coaching. We offer several programs and free workshops as well.

The annual RockMeRetreat is for all senior-level professionals who need a boost to overcome challenges in there professional and personal lives. I am really determined to help minorities (of any kind) and women overcome the obstacles they face in their careers and better their journey.  The RockMeRetreat will also help you if you need a “pitstop” to think about your current situation, improve your relationships and want to re-energize yourself.

We are offering the RockMeRetreat this year at the Haus der Begegnung, Ilanz, Grisons, from 17 to 23 November 2022. Sign up here to be updated and informed.

Resources and further reading

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/05/the-myth-of-flexibility-for-women-in-the-workplace/?utm_source=sfmc&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2777109_Agenda_weekly-20May2022&utm_term=&emailType=Agenda%20Weekly

121: Why Only 25% Of International Assignees Are Women

https://www-srf-ch.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.srf.ch/article/18661443/amp 

Murchie, F. (2020). Women on the front line. Relocate Global, Summer Issue 2020, p.13 https://content.yudu.com/web/fiqy/0A3p9yp/Summer-2020/html/index.html?page=12&origin=reader

https://attitude.co.uk/article/meet-the-head-of-the-united-nations-lgbtq-staff-network/23388/?fbclid=IwAR3iICb0qbAqf2lZWoerrUxYTkKIIgBrd7qBs3EWtgReDadvT54I9BoEDi0

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/5/18/21260209/facebook-sheryl-sandberg-interview-lean-in-women-coronavirus

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2020/06/three-degrees-racism-america/613333/

 ​https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200724-why-imposter-syndrome-hits-women-and-women-of-colour-harder 

https://www.fidi.org/blog/expats-with-disabilities?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=socialseeder&utm_campaign=2020+07+%2F+01+-+Expats+with+disabilities%3A+why+the+lack+of+accessibility+is+holding+us+all+back

References 

Czerny, E. J. & Steinkellner, P. S. (2009). Diversität als Basis erfolgreicher Teams. Eine ressourcenorientierte Betrachtung. Unpublished Working Paper, Vienna: PEF Privatuniversität für Management.  

Human Rights Campaign Foundation. (2019, Sep. 23). World Report 2019: Human Rights Watch Country Profiles: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved June 18, 2020, from https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/interactive/2019/02/28/human-rights-watch-country-profiles-sexual-orientation-and

Human Rights Campaign Foundation. (2021, April. 23). World Report 2021: Human Rights Watch Country Profiles: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved June 04, 2021, from
https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/interactive/2021/04/23/country-profiles-sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity 

KPMG. (2018a). Inclusion and Diversity: How Global Mobility can help move the Needle. KPMG. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle-FINAL.pdf

KPMG. (2018b). Inclusion and Diversity in Global Mobility. KPMG. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle.pdf

KPMG. (2021). Inclusion and Diversity in Global Mobility. 2021 U.S. DEI report. KPMG. Retrieved 7 June 2022. , from https://www.kpmg.us/content/dam/global/pdfs/2021/kpmg-us-2021-dei-report.pdf.

Maclachlan, M. (2018; Mar.). Why Female Talent Are the Future of Global Mobility. Learnlight. Retrieved June 18, 2020, from https://insights.learnlight.com/en/articles/female-talent-future-global-mobility/

PwC. (2016). Women of the world: Aligning gender diversity and international mobility in financial services. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf

Why it is Hard to Measure Expat Performance
Performance

A study by Learnlight shows that four in ten international assignments are judged to be a failure. And yet the number of overseas assignments continues to rise. Global companies are under considerable pressure to determine what makes a successful overseas assignment and to understand why they so often fail. However, what has been so often overlooked is why it is difficult to measure expatriate performance. Since both assignment failure and success depends on how expats perform on the job, it becomes pertinent to consider how expats perform and why it is difficult to measure their performance. In the following points, I will highlight and elaborate on five reasons why it is difficult to measure expatriate performance.

  • Goals for Expats are often not clearly defined. They are often conflicting as they have to take into account the interests of the home and host company, or headquarters and subsidiaries. It becomes difficult to work effectively when expats are trying to achieve the home company goals while simultaneously trying to fit in the expectations of the host company. More expats would perform well if the goals of the host company align with the objectives of the home company.
  • Performance ratings have been calibrated for years. However, we know that there is an unconscious bias in the data. The first rater is usually a direct manager.  This person potentially judges their own weaknesses less and thinks that the expat is responsible for failure alone. However, often the manager in the host country does not help the expat to solve dilemmas. The home country manager should consider it a responsibility to make it seamless for the expatriate to integrate well into the system. One of the biggest factors that determine whether or not an assignee would be successful is who his or her line manager is. 
  • Cultural concepts of performance are biased. Definitions of “high performance” have been largely influenced by Western values and did not take team performance into account. The gig economy will need stronger team collaboration and fewer individual players. Eastern values and approaches might have an advantage now.
  • Management by Objectives is outdated. We need a new conceptual framework of performance. Even in the past setting annual targets was not always the best method of judging performance (irrespective of expat or local).
  • Expat managers usually lack the informal network and access to the host culture so it is not surprising if their performance drops in Y1. It is quite impossible to know how to navigate in a terrain that you are not familiar with. Also, they are busy adjusting and have a family to integrate into the new life abroad. One might think that we can accelerate the cultural adjustment and then just go “back to the normal way of judging performance” but I would advise against such thinking. It takes time to fit into the system and culture of a new location. Hence, the whole process of cultural adjustment takes its tolls on expat performance.

Expatriate Performance and Potential Assessment

Scullion, Collings (2011) describe the performance assessment system at Novartis which will be used as a generic example for global companies. The system “…grades employees on (a) business results (the “what”) and (b) values and behaviors (the “how”). While the business results are unique to each business area, the values and behaviors (ten in all) are common across the entire firm.” Together with the potential assessment talents are assessed in a nine-box matrix. (Scullion, Collings, 2011, p. 29)

Basing expats’ performance solely on business results may not give the overall picture of all that transpires to make an assignment either a success or a failure. There should be a holistic overview of all the processes that go into cultural adjustment and family acculturation. 

Expat adjustment as a success factor – The Term “Expat Failure” and what it commonly refers to

When discussing the success of an international assignment or project a common way to measure “success” is expat adjustment which in contradiction to “expat failure” is often equalized with completing an assignment for the planned assignment period.

“The authors leave open how long it may take an expatriate to attain the same level of applicability and clarity abroad as at home, stressing that one or two years may not suffice. To reach higher levels, the person may very well have experienced an identity transformation far more profound than passing through a cycle of adjustment.” Hippler, Haslberger, Brewster (2017, p.85)

“A “comprehensive model of success is missing” and Caligiuri’s (1997) suggestion that future studies should clarify what is meant by adjustment, as opposed to performance, indicated the need for definitional and discriminant clarity when examining performance.” Care and Donuhue (2017, p.107)

Talent management approaches in Germany and Switzerland and most of Europe are driven by the U.S.-based ideas about talent identification and definitions and use the “nine-box grid” to select key talents with a halo-effect towards white males. 

Influence of psychological contract on expatriate retention

An issue in expatriation is often the lack of clarity around the role after repatriation. A psychological contract exists between the expat and the company but there is no written agreement or clear understanding of the next role or roles in the process. Expectations are not properly managed and often expats are disappointed with their title, pay or role content in the next role when returning from an assignment.

Two years after repatriation there are several factors influencing retention significantly. 

  1. a) re-entry cultural adjustment, another 
  2. b) role expectation mismatch and 
  3. c) the lack of applicability of the learning from the previous assignment.

The Integration of Global Mobility and Global Talent Management

One of the reasons for this lack of synchronization is the missing integration of global mobility and global talent management activities and functions in today’s organizations. The only guidance focuses on academic concepts of expatriate return on investment.

A Holistic Competency Model is Needed

I claim that we not only need a better integration of Talent Management and Global Mobility (hence the term Talent Mobility) but we also need to look at our performance management systems, global competency models, recruiting and talent identification process under a new light. We finally need to advance HR to an interculturally competent function and reduce the inherent bias in all of our processes, tools and leaders. This will be a major task in a post-colonial BANI World.

My Global Competency Model has been an attempt to integrate Eastern and Western mindsets into a model. Our coaching approach builds on Eastern and Western coaching practices. We included the ethics by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). The holistic approach of my coach, educator Drs. Boudewijn Vermeulen, further developed by Dr. Eva Kinast into a holistic, body-oriented and intercultural coaching method. This method focuses on building and maintaining effective trust-based relationships, the body-mind-heart connection and is linked to the psychology of Carl Gustav Jung. 

The model also assumes weekly reflection, regular practices, which originate from Eastern mindsets and concepts such as ZEN. We integrated body learning which was taught to me by Dr. Jay Muneo Jay Yoshikawa in a course of Eastern Mindscapes (back in 2005 at the Summer Institute of Intercultural Communication in Portland, Oregon). Reflected experiences are based on the single-loop and double-loop learning theory of Argyris and Schoen. Also, experiential learning that I first learned from Thiaggi about 20 years ago and have further developed into all of my programs.

Trust and Relationships are Collaboration Glue

In almost every coaching session right now leaders talk to me about the need to get better at building trust (also in a virtual setting) and relationships. Relationships in my view are the glue to working well together within a monocultural but also multicultural environment. Collaboration (as opposed to Cooperation) requires a higher level of trust among project team members. Agile needs it. And Diversity, Equity and Inclusion demand it. 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR GLOBAL MOBILITY?

“Better alignment between global mobility and companies’ global talent agenda is a precondition for making mobility truly strategic and helping companies achieve a significant return on investment with their international assignments.”

  • Widening the scope of Global Mobility to include international hires, cross-border commuters, international transfers, lifestyle assignments, global digital nomads and other groups of internationally mobile professionals.
  • Reviewing all HR models and processes to reduce bias and White Supremacy should be on the priority list of every HR leader but you can also make it your personal mission. Help us create a world where everyone has a chance and invite those to the table that are often overlooked.
  • Defining assignment objectives up front and tracking progress throughout assignment. You must ensure that not only the home company or headquarters have clear cut objectives for the expat  but also that the host company’s objectives are in sync and align with that of the headquarters. Coach the expat or send them to me for coaching. Help them be a success rather than a failure.
  • Improving productivity by addressing development areas such as communication, process and culture barriers. Key problem areas should be identified. Oftentimes, expats complain about loss of connection to the home company. Nobody from the headquarters or home company is interested in how they fare in the new environment. If expats feel deserted, it could adversely affect their performance output. Proffering viable solutions to pain points of expats, such as cultural roadblocks would help improve expats performance. Give them the vocabulary to speak about their blockers, send them to intercultural awareness training. 
  • Helping coordinate annual talent review of all expatriates. Reviews like this give expats the opportunity to express their perception of the international assignment. 
  • Increase the expat’s self-awareness. Let expats learn more about themselves. We use the IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory) and ICBI™ (Individual Cultural Blueprint Indicator) for example for self-awareness assessment and the outcomes can be a great conversation starter in a coaching session.

You already know that I am on a mission to bring the Human Touch back into Global Mobility and therefore we would also like to contribute to research in the growing body of knowledge around Global Mobility. Our Academic Intern Monica Kim Kuoy is running a research project and I hope you would like to support us by being an interview partner or sounding board for our ideas.

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

RESOURCES

Who is an Expatriate Employee?

https://expatfinancial.com/who-is-an-expatriate-employee/ 

https://feibv.nl/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Master-Thesis_Weinberger-Angela_Jan-2019_Final.pdf

Performance
Expat Performance