Women in international management

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International Human Resource Management Assignment :


Don Minday

International assignments are becoming, nowadays, a real necessity for the multinational companies that have subsidiaries or factories in many places of the world. A survey done in 1997 by ORC, shows that 63% of responding organisations were planning to increase theirinternational assignments in Asia, and 54% also in Europe[1]. These data also illustrate that having an international experience is becoming very important for managers because it is a way used by international organisations to develop the future senior management.

While the demand for international assignees is increasing, the rate of women in such positions remains low. Indeed, the rate of femaleexpatriates was about 2-3% in the early 1980’s (Caligiuri et al., 1999), and even if it has increased to reach between 14% and 18% in 2002 (GMAC-GRS and ORC Surveys) it is still low compared to the overall qualified female labour force. In North America, figures show that between 2 and 14% of global assignees are women, compared with 45% of women in management in domestic contexts (Adler, 1984a,1994a and b; Florkowski and Fogel, 1995; The Conference Board, 1992; Tung, 1997). In Europe, a similar picture emerges; there are between 9 and 15% of women on global assignments compared with 26% in management (Brewster, 1991; Harris, 1998, 2002; ORC, 1997). At the beginning, the low proportion of women in international position could be explained by the historical scarcity of local women managersin most countries, but since the first study about women in global management done by Adler in 1984, a big change cannot be noticed, their representation in such positions increasing very slowly.

Many researches and studies have been done, trying to understand why women are still a minority in international management. Is it a fact that can be objectively justified?

In the followingliterature review, we will first reject some myths that have tried to explain this trend without any real fondaments, then, we will focus on some reasons that can give hint of understanding the phenomenon, and in a third part, we will discover that there are, however, some advantages of being a woman in international management. To conclude, we will highlight some recommendations in order to open morepossibilities to companies and women to work on global assignment together.

I) Three myths can be rejected as a reason for the minority of women in global positions...

I.1: Lack of Motivation

One of the first idea given to explain the scarcity of women on international assignments is that women are not interested in international positions, or at least, less than men. Because ofan early socialisation from parents, schools, media and peer groups, the role of a woman is viewed as to be a good mother and so to care about the brining up of children. That make people think a woman puts her family first, before her career, and she would not be engaged in a job that require lots of time and personal investment like it can be the case on international assignment. Burke andMcKeen showed in 1993 that female managers were more likely to be “career-primary oriented” as opposed to “career-family oriented”, that is to say they put their career first. In this respect, female managers’ needs for achievement and for power generally do not differ from men’s (Chusmir, 1985; Stevens and Brenner, 1990; Ferrario, 1994).
To verify this myth, Adler (1984) carried out a researchamong 1129 graduating MBA students in Canada, Europe and the USA. The results showed that new women graduates expressed as much interest in international assignments as their male counterparts. Women attributed the difficulties to reach these assignments by barriers from the company policies and not by lack of motivation. Moreover, Colwill (1984) observed that male managers will often attributes...
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