Six years after auditor Emily Huber was first employed by PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York, she was sent to Bermuda on a two-year assignment as an assurance manager, working primarily with one large multi-national spirits company.

Huber, who spent a semester in London during college, has always been interested in working abroad.

“I think especially in the global world that we live in, it’s so important to work with others, experience different cultures and be exposed to this kind of growth experience,” Huber says.

The opportunity offered to Huber may be the exception rather than the rule. The recently released global PwC study, “Modern mobility: moving women with purpose,” reveals that organizations are experiencing a time of unprecedented — and as yet unmet — female demand for international mobility. Seventy-one percent of female millennials responded that they want to work abroad during their career, but women represent only 20% of the current internationally mobile population.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]

Barriers to women seeking international assignments are often rooted in invalid assumptions that women with children do not want to work abroad. Yet 41% percent of female survey respondents who indicated they want to undertake an international assignment are parents, compared with 40% of men.

Furthermore, men consider women’s concerns about putting their partners’ higher-salary income at risk as the second highest barrier to female mobility (27%). However, 82% of female respondents who are in a relationship are part of a dual career couple, and 77% of those earn salaries equal to, or more than, their partner or spouse, research finds. As a result, this higher income risk may well be a challenge not only when deploying women, but when deploying men.

Huber is currently single, so finding a job for a partner in Bermuda was not an issue. But PwC Global Mobility Consulting Practice Leader Eileen Mullaney agrees that because most families have two breadwinners today, whether or not the financial and career aspirations of a spouse can be accommodated is certainly a significant factor when employees of either sex are considering a transfer.

“I don’t think there is any company out there that is going to get to cover the financial impact of the job loss of a non-employee spouse,” Mullaney says. “But we see a lot of organizations offering services as part of their relocation and assimilation program for spouses that help them to understand the work environment, prepare resumes and even get ready for interviews.”

“More robust mobility programs often offer cultural training not only for the assignee, but for the spouse and children,” adds Mercer Central Market Mobility Leader Daniel Hayot. “There may also be a spousal allowance that can be used to get the professional certification required to work in the host country.”

For Huber, having a close relationship with a female PwC partner who has worked in several countries helped her decide to seek and accept an assignment overseas. However, survey data shows that international organizations are currently facing the challenge of a significant role model gap, with less than half of women (49%) agreeing that their organization has enough female role models with successful international assignment experience.

Mullaney says that that access to female role models who have worked abroad varies from one company to the next, but she believes there is tremendous value in having women who come back and reintegrate tell their stories and act as coaches or mentors to other women. is in high and: of

Early mobility is in high demand, with 74% of respondents (both women and men) saying the most preferred time to work abroad is in the first six years of a career. Yet 33% of organizations don’t currently offer mobility opportunities for newer employees, research shows.

“In the past, more senior folks have been sent abroad to open new operations or businesses, but that comes with lots of challenges around the family dynamic and how costly it is to move someone,” Mullaney says. “We’re seeing now the most optimal time to move people is in the first five or six years of their career because they are open to cross-functional experiences, and they don’t have children yet.”

To create an environment conducive to the inclusive selection of international assignees, international employers must have a clear understanding of who from their workforce is willing and prepared to take a foreign posting. Yet, only 25% of global mobility leaders surveyed say they have a real-time understanding of the mobile readiness of their complete workforce.

“I think in some cases, employers don’t necessarily do a good job of having a dialogue with people who have the right skill set, who are on the mobility track or asking them when they might want to go on assignment or what they hope to accomplish,” Mullaney says.

Hayot thinks breaking down silos between HR and mobility groups is essential to facilitate identifying and successfully transitioning international assignees.

“Mobility needs a seat at the HR table so their policies and processes can be integrated with the organization’s overall talent strategy, which should typically include some type of diversity and inclusion agenda,” he says.

Some 75% of global mobility leaders say their assignment destinations match the priority destinations for growth of the organization. However, companies face the challenge that their priority destinations are often those least favored by employees seeking assignments. Nearly half of women (48%) and 35% of men, for example, say they would never relocate to the Middle East, while 43% of women and 39% of men say the same about Africa.

To get the women and men they need to support their business in less desirable locations, Mullaney says companies have to be open to non-traditional mobility solutions including “commuting” or regular travel cycles.

“Companies have to decide whether someone has to be there 24/7 to have the expected business impact, or if they can they be there 30% or 40% of the time.”

“Companies have to decide whether someone has to be there 24/7 to have the expected business impact, or if they can they be there 30% or 40% of the time,” she says. “As organizations become open to different kinds of arrangements, they often don’t have to move the while family so they can more easily circumvent issues relating to lack of infrastructure or personal security.”

The top professional concern women identified around embarking on mobility assignments (44%) is the nature of their role upon repatriation. Huber, for one, is not too worried about what will happen when she returns to PwC’s New York office.

“Since I’ve been gone, I still maintain a close connection with a lot of individuals and partners I’ve worked with as well as HR,” she says. “I also feel pretty connected. I get back to New York about every three months, and I meet with people in my home office.”

Mullaney believes that creating a culture of international mobility as a catalyst to achieving more gender-inclusive mobility is a journey that cannot happen overnight.

“I think mobility has to be rebranded to make it exciting by showcasing both male and female success stories,” she says. “And, on the flip side, organizations have to be focused on making the mobility experience easy and a positive experience for employees and their families.”

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