More female expats than ever

Record numbers of women are being sent on international assignments, a survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting revealed. The trend is particularly pronounced in Asia, where countries such as China are asserting their space on the international stage.

by Mercer Human Resource Consulting

Compared to 2001, the increase was 16-fold in Asia, four-fold in America and nearly two-fold in Europe. The study also pointed out that more than half of all companies expected the trend to continue over the next five years. "Going on expatriate placements can be an important step on the career ladder, and women are increasingly interested in taking these assignments," says Yvonne Sonsino, principal at Mercer.

Most companies treat their female and male expatriates under the same policy, but certain issues do crop up in the case of women, which were not hitherto relevant for men. For instance, 15% of surveyed companies said they would not send women to hardship locations such as the Middle East.

The research also found that women are less likely to take their partners with them. Only 16% of companies said that the majority of their female assignees went with a partner, against 57% for men. Female expats are also more likely to be single at the time of the assignment than their male counterpart.

"Studies suggest partners of successful women also tend to have high-powered careers. When a woman is offered an international assignment, their partner may be less willing to make career concessions to accompany them," says Sonsino.

Such findings would suggest that help for spouses might be welcome, particularly with regard to finding work. "An unhappy spouse can often cause an assignment to fail, so not spending money on support services can be a false economy for companies," says Sonsino.

The same argument goes with childcare - indeed, 12% of companies said they had female expatriates who were single parents.

Source: Mercer Human Resource Consulting

Review by Emilie Filou

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