Have visa, will travel: women won’t be left behind

Gaynor Reid is into her fourth year in Singapore with hospitality company AccorHotels and she still finds others in the expatriate community wrongly assume she is the “trailing spouse”.

In fact, Reid’s husband was unemployed for the first 18 months of their stay and had to adapt to leaving his successful business to become the main carer for the couple’s primary school-age daughter Kiara.

" Demand from women for international assignments is at its highest ever level, particularly from younger women"
Fiona Smith, Leadership journalist

“The difficult thing is everyone always assumes we moved here for his job and, while the women we know are playing tennis or having long lunches, I am the one in the office. So there is definitely still a big gender divide in that regard,” Reid says.

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Women comprise only 20 per cent of the ‘internationally mobile population’, even though they want the overseas experience just as much as their male counterparts do, according to global research by PwC.

PwC’s report, Modern Mobility: Moving Women with Purpose also finds demand from women for international assignments is at its highest ever level, particularly from younger women.

Around 71 per cent of female Millennials (born between 1980 and 1995) want to work outside their home country at some stage during their careers.


Reid, vice president of communications for the Asia Pacific region, was offered her overseas placement after 12 years with AccorHotels and relished the opportunity to develop new skills and turbocharge her career – particularly with greater visibility to the Singapore-based CEO and chairman.

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At AccorHotels, women ask for international mobility more than men do. Within the company’s head office, 78 per cent of women stated an interest in international mobility, compared with 72 per cent of men.

As a company in the travel industry, you would expect AccorHotels to have systems in place to move its employees around internationally: and it starts each year by asking all its employees about their preparedness to move and where they may be willing to move.

This is a simple process but not common according to PwC People Business partner at PwC, Jonathan Dunlea.

Dunlea says employers, in general, have not made enough effort to make international assignments more accessible to women.

"It surprises me that with all of the new sources of data that employers are able to tap into about their employee population, there still isn’t a focused effort around mobile-readiness,” he says.

‘Eighty percent make no effort to encourage women’

When executives in charge of employee mobility were asked, only 22 per cent said they were actively trying to raise the proportion of female employees working internationally.

This has grave implications for women with ambitions to leadership: 69 per cent of the executives deciding who travels say they move employees to develop their succession pipeline of future leaders.

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In other words, nearly 80 per cent of the people who decide international placements are making no effort to ensure women enter that leadership ‘pipeline’ by working overseas.

The greatest barriers to women’s international mobility are (in order) a lack of knowledge about who is prepared to move, too few female role models, and a belief women with children do not want to undertake international assignments, according to the PwC report.

The first can be tackled by a self-identifying process, like the one used at AccorHotels. Telstra is also in the process of building platforms for this purpose.

The second barrier is overcome by profiling the careers of women working internationally in company newsletters, publications and websites (and also increasing the number of women on international assignments).

The third barrier is, simply, wrong. Mothers do want overseas work experience.

Of women with children, 41 per cent still want an international assignment, according to the report – almost exactly the same proportion as fathers (40 per cent).

The extent of women’s’ frustration is clear in the fact merely 17 per cent of the female assignees are mothers, compared with 40 per cent of fathers.

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The advice for women from chief human resources Officer, ANZ, Susie Babani, is to show they want the international experience – even if they don’t feel ready for it right now.

“Always say yes and put yourself out there. Don’t wait for an offer or opportunity to come and then decide whether you want it or not,” she says.

“That is what most of the guys will do. If you say ‘no’, you are really knocking yourself out of the equation.”

Babani says in many cases when women say ‘no’ to an international posting, they really mean ‘no, not now’.

Unfortunately, if they indicate they won’t go when asked at an early stage (when it may not suit them) it can be read by organisation as a permanent refusal.

“It becomes almost set in stone,” Babani says.



The Women at Accor Generation (WAAG) program aims to have 50 per cent of female hotel general managers at its hotels by 2020. There are now around 38 per cent in Australia, but far lower in many countries in Asia.

“All staff are offered international mobility programs but, overall, because men still hold more GM roles, they are the ones that are most likely to be offered international exposure,” Reid says.

“Looking at our Singapore head office, we have 41 expats here from across the globe and 19 are women, so I think that shows that at least at head office level women are being offered international experience.

“What I can see, though, is of those 19 women who are expats, only four of us are mothers so there may be something that holds mothers back from being offered or taking international placements.”


Telstra is implementing a new platform to hold information about each employee’s skills, experience, location, education, and whether they’re interested in international.

Signaling the success of its efforts to be fair in candidate selection, more than 35 per cent of its current international assignees are women. This is a greater proportion than the gender balance across the group, which was 30.2 per cent in 2014.

Fiona Smith is a Leadership journalist for BlueNotes.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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