Employers Sending More Women Overseas

October 12, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A new survey found that multinational companies are increasingly sending women overseas, but those females are far less likely than their male counterparts to be accompanied by a partner.

A Mercer Human Resource Consulting news release said that North American companies have nearly four times more women expatriates this year compared to 2001 while those in Europe have more than twice as many.

In fact, more than half of the companies (55%) predicted that the number of female assignees will keep rising steadily over the next five years, while 35% believe the number will be flat. Just 4% believe it will go down.

“Going on expatriate placements can be an important step on the career ladder, and women are increasingly interested in taking these assignments,” said Yvonne Sonsino, principal at Mercer Human Resource Consulting, in the news release. “Yet many companies’ policies are outdated and do not reflect the changing profile of their expatriates, so assignees’ requirements are dealt with on a case-by-case basis,”

Though the companies surveyed generally do not have separate policies for women sent to other countries, the study found some differentiation in the treatment of male and female assignees. For example, 15% of employers said they would not send women to hardship locations, such as the Middle East.

Mercer found that women expatriates are more likely than men to leave their partners at home when on assignment. While 57% of companies said the majority of their male assignees are accompanied by a partner, just 16% said most of their female expatriates are accompanied.

Female expatriates are also less likely than their male counterparts to have a partner prior to going on assignment. While 74% of companies said the majority of their male assignees had partners before going on assignment, only 25% of companies said this was the case among female expatriates.

“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,” said Sonsino. “This may strengthen the need for companies to have well-defined spouse support policies which include assistance for the partner in finding work.”

Two-thirds of companies (66%) don’t give their employees’ partners any support to help them settle in the host country, the survey found. Where support is provided, it is usually only given when specifically requested. For example, the survey found that only 7% of companies offer partners information on the local job market, though 37% said they would come up with such data if it were requested.

In the survey, 12% of companies said they have female expatriates who are single parents, yet only 4% provide additional support to this group.

The global survey covers over 100 multinational companies with nearly 17,000 male and female international assignees.