How will international postings for women accelerate gender parity at work?

International Women’s Day 2016 is upon us – with this year’s theme being #PledgeforParity.  Whilst over the last year, support to increase gender equality has gained more traction through UN Women’s HeForShe campaign and more male champion networks, the numbers of women in leadership roles continues to grow ever so slowly.

Unfortunately, women still only make up just 4% of S&P 500 chief executive officers[1] and hold on average 17% of board seats globally[2] (and less than 10% of all board seats in Singapore[3]), even though they now represent the majority of university graduates in many courses today.

I’ve always been a strong proponent of gaining an international assignment early in one’s career, having been the beneficiary of an early international assignment.  So I was really pleased to see the results of PwC’s recent survey, Modern mobility: Moving women with purpose which provided further proof to what many I believe had suspected.  Three key messages personally struck me:

Graph of results of survey of women who want a mobility experience in their first six years of their career

1.  International assignments are critical to career progression – Six in 10 of the companies surveyed said international assignments are critical to potential managers gaining experience, connecting with more senior role models and getting promoted. In today’s global environment, it is unusual to find senior leaders who have not done international assignments.

However, only 20% of the currently international mobile population is women, and disappointingly only 22% of employers are actively trying to increase their female workforce mobility.

2.  Women want to go on international assignments – 64% of women (and 71% in Singapore) said that going overseas was both key in attracting them to their employer and a factor in retaining them.  This was consistent with PwC’s 2015 survey, The female millennial – a new era of talent which found that 82% of female millennials in Singapore wanted to work outside their home country during their careers.

However often many bosses mistakenly assume that women won’t take on foreign assignments because they have children – yet the survey found that globally nearly equal number of executives (41 % of the women and 40 % of the men) who said they wanted overseas assignments already were parents.

3.  Most women want an international assignment in their first six yearsThis finding particularly resonated with me as I did my first international assignment four years after starting with PwC Australia when I was initially seconded to PwC Singapore for two years. Most women (73% globally and an even higher 83% in Singapore) want to take an international assignment in their first six years of their careers – yet 33% of organisations globally don’t currently offer early mobility opportunities. Singapore women in particular are even keener than their global counterparts to do an international assignment before they have children and before eldercare responsibilities start.

Clearly there is a disconnect, or some misalignment in how many employers manage their talent, global mobility and diversity strategies.  Aligning these strategies could be one of the solutions to strengthening the pipeline of loyal leadership-ready women in their organisations in the future, and accelerating the time it takes to achieve gender parity in companies. To overcome the barriers, employers must first identify and understand the actual – not assumed – barriers confronting them.

It will be interesting to see how this evolves over the coming years.

Happy International Women’s Day 2016!

To read more about the Singapore results on how international postings for women accelerate gender parity at work, visit here.

To learn more about my own experience working overseas, visit here.


[1] Catalyst: New York 3 February 2016

[2] 2014 Catalyst Census: Women Board Directors: New York 2015 quoted in HeForShe Impact 10x10x10 Corporate Parity Report 2016

[3] Diversity Action Committee: Singapore 29 February 2016


Post first shared on LinkedIn on 7 March 2016 here.