– Equally available for everyone?
Working life is essentially global nowadays. However, working global can mean different things to different people. You can stay put and interact virtually with people all over the world without being tied to any particular physical time or place. You may be involved in a multicultural workforce in your home country, or you can get a change of scene and do an international assignment. Is an international assignment equally available to everyone, and just a matter of deciding to go and packing your suitcase? Do men and women have the same opportunities to carry out an international assignment?
According to research done over the years, women often encounter difficulties when advancing to the uppermost levels of organizations. There is evidence that doing an international assignment is not only a requirement for an organization’s competitive success but also beneficial for career advancement and essential for certain top-level positions (e.g. women on boards). According to Tharenou (2010) women more often take the initiative to go on an international assignment than men do, but still organizations tend to send more men abroad. This results that the number of women on international assignments is lower.
The work-family relationship has often been put forward to explain why women do not take international assignments, suggesting that women turning down the opportunities they have because of their family responsibilities (Shortland 2015). However, there is evidence that actually women are willing to go abroad, but family factors can lead to women being less able to convert their willingness into action. This results in an agency gap, in which the understanding of gender roles concerning family responsibilities as well as of the organizational system that directs decision-making in international assignments is crucial.
To create an economically and socially sustainable working life which operates globally, it might be worth trying to understand how organizations and managers can organize their operations in such a way that selection, assignment, appraisal, promotion and work-family integration are possible and are realized in action for women on the way to senior levels and management posts. Processes that operate fairly and justly to enable women to pursue and succeed in international assignments are needed both at home and abroad.
This blog was written by Suvi Heikkinen and Alessandra Rigolini during a short international research assignment in BI Norwegian Business School (Oslo). Rigolini, PhD, works as a research fellow at the Department of Economics and Management, University of Pisa. Heikkinen, PhD, works as a post-doctoral researcher in the WEALL project in the School of Business and Economics, University of Jyväskylä. Both researchers are interested in equal career opportunities.
WeAll researcher Suvi Heikkinen, University of Jyväskylä
Alessandra Rigolini, PhD, University of Pisa
Shortland, S. 2015. The Purpose of Expatriation: Why Women Undertake International Assignments. Human Resource Management. DOI: 10.1002/hrm.21686.
Tharenou, P. 2010. Women’s self-initiated expatriation as a career option and its ethical issues. Journal of Business Ethics, 95(1), 73-88.