Why we Need to Push for More Minority and Female Expats in Global Mobility
Diversity and Inclusion will be a key success factor in Global Mobility

“In times of crisis, #blacklivesmatter, #metoo and refugees being part of our workforce, we need to take a stance and stand up for minority and female talent.” 

Are you a Senior Manager or a Global Mobility professional, perhaps the Manager of the Global Mobility program in your company? I bet your population is neither diverse, nor inclusive. We need to push for more minority expats and female expats because otherwise we will still talk about this in 20 years.

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 also inclusive when minority groups really participate in the decision-making process and contribute to breaking the career glass ceiling. Besides being meaningless, diversity without inclusion does not drive team performance either (Czerny and Steinkellner, 2009). To quote the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, “inclusive diversity is a strength.”

Why do we Need More Minority Expats and Female Expats in Global Mobility?

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

According to 59% of the respondents, the reason is that candidates for international assignments are chosen by the business unit, and not Global Mobility. This is true, however, why should you not encourage the business line to include more minority and female talent in their selection. Should your role not be to challenge the business when they always promote and select the same kind of talent?

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 D&I goals are needed. We think this is too short-sighted and a biased view of the world. Diversity and Inclusion at this stage needs to be more than affirmative action. We need to actively push 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 strongly recommend that you consider more second generation immigrants, People of Color (PoC) and refugees.

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

You certainly 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 solutions related not only to religion, ethnicity and disability status, but also educational, professional and socio-economic 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 from 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 doesn’t say the same. 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.

When I was sent on an STA to India in 2006 I had to ask for it and there weren’t many women on assignment at the time. There was a general assumption that it would be harder for a woman to perform in India and yes, sometimes we were separated from the men, which was very unusual for me at the time and I felt at a disadvantage. However, I would still consider that I had a successful assignment and managed to work through a lot of issues just by being there in person. 

3 – There’s a Lack of Transparency over who is Assigned and why

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

According to 42% of women (PwC, 2016), organisations  don’t have a clear view of employees who 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.

Later in my career, I noticed that I was never asked again for opportunities in other countries – I always had to push for them. One time I turned down an STA to the Middle East (for the wrong reasons in hindsight) but the fact that even progressing it to an offer took a lot of persistence and relationship management is symptomatic of a system that is flawed. My assumption was that if I accepted the STA during a core restructuring program, my team in the home country would suffer from my absence, so I stayed. One year later though, with the next restructuring, things changed again. I had already moved on to start my own company. Now I wish I had taken the STA.

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 favourable consideration to frequent business travel based in the home country, fly-in/fly-out commuter assignments, short (6-12 months), and very short-term assignments (less than 6 months). If you expand the list of available options, you can match a wide variety of business demands.

Most companies are now frantically working on expanding their toolbox and traveler types. We know that we will have more work with these kinds of constructions but we also need to be aware that this is the future of Global Mobility. As I mentioned in the Global Mobility Workbook (2019) we are expanding our scope and this will not only help minority and female talent but also us as a function.

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

In traditionally 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 they are 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.

This is a general issue when you are ‘junior’. Interestingly, I have seen very good initiatives in the construction industry to overcome stereotypes against gender roles in countries normally associated with those very stereotypes. LafargeHolcim has great programs for women in countries like the Philippines, for example.

6  – There are Barriers Posed by External Factors

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. A majority of countries don’t allow same-sex marriage, and homosexual acts are illegal in over 70 countries. According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, there are still 10 countries where people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgendered or transsexual (LGBQT+) can be put to death.

Still, I know several gay couples who had successful assignments to countries where societal attitudes and laws are not wholly favorable. We just need to find the right arguments and then we often end up finding solutions to these external barriers. For example, with good immigration lawyers you stand a chance of getting work visas for both partners in a same-sex relationship. Public conduct and private conduct may differ significantly. In Africa and some Asian countries men holding hands is seen as normal in public. What happens inside the apartment is often private. What is harder to overcome, in my view, are gender identity and racist issues as they are more visible than sexual orientation. 

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 even observe that we have gone back three steps in supporting minority and female talent over the last 25 years.

In my view, 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 each of your employees. You need more than unconscious bias training for managers. You need to establish facts. And facts are only established with data. Here are the four main reasons to establish 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 pool of talent 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 leadership. Report the data regularly to your Senior Management. Without data, nothing will change.

2 – You Control Costs Better

One of the main mobility cost drivers is not related to pay packages and policies as such but to the fact that companies often have a limited choice of candidates for assignments. A broader talent pool facilitates assignment success and indirectly helps control costs better. You depend less on only 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.

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

Having international experience is nowadays a precondition to reach top managerial levels within many multinational companies. Employees develop essential skills and build a network that boosts their careers immensely. It’s therefore important 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. In your reviews and competition for being an “Employer of Choice”, offering international opportunities to minority and female talent will put you ahead of the competition.

4 – You do What is Appropriate in 2020

In times of crisis, #blacklivesmatter, #metoo and refugees being part of our workforce, we need to take a stance and stand up for minority and female talent. Who knows, had my employer sent me to Dubai in 2011, I may still have been there today. In January, I made a commitment to hire at least one professional from a minority group or from a country I am not familiar with at all. I’m hoping to challenge myself against my biases and assumptions. It’s a baby step, but you can do this too.

If you wish to discuss how to make your team or your Global Mobility program more attractive for minority and female talent, please contact angela@globalpeopletransitions.com directly for a proposal.

We also offer RockMe!, a coaching program which can help minority expats and female expats define their global career goals and follow through with them.


Read the insights of the 4th edition of the Advance and HSG Gender Intelligence Report.


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







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

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

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

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