Is unconscious bias impacting international assignment opportunities in your organization? We all have unconscious biases in one form or another—they are impossible to consistently avoid.
Unconscious biases can show up in the workplace in many different ways; some positive and others negative. They can be based on any number of variables, traits, or characteristics that we attribute to people we see or interact with every day.
Some of these are obvious: nationality, social class, marital status, apparent sexuality, or age. Others however can be far subtler: how a person dresses, their physical appearance, how they communicate; it could be where they went to school, what football team they support, even their job function, or area of expertise. Whether obvious or not, all these (and many others) can influence who gets hired, who gets promoted, who gets listened to, and sometimes who gets selected to go on international assignments.
Gender equality is an area that continues to be a significant blind spot and unconscious bias in the workplace; negatively influencing women in many ways, including the number of females that go on international assignments.
After 20 years of tracking, the industry average of female assignees remains steadily around 20%. Even companies making gender equality a priority have their fair share of examples where qualified women are being overlooked for international opportunities—mainly due to unspoken assumptions about their willingness to go or fit for the role.
“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.” – Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook
In order to end the unconscious bias towards female assignees in the workplace, changes need to be put into action. It is important to first be aware, but also to be actively pursuing how to change issues at hand in order to give everyone a fighting chance.
1. Selection Criteria
Best practice companies require more than one candidate for international assignment opportunities and more than one decision-maker. In larger organizations with strong commitments to Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) goals, the criteria goes so far as to require diversity of candidates. However, this is not possible with all companies.
If a HR business partner or global mobility team member is included in the final selection process and tasked with asking questions about assignee diversity, it helps bring the discussion into the open. Companies with predecision scorecards to assess assignee fit can include gender diversity as one metric.
2. Use Your Data
Companies of every size already have the capability to know how many of their employees are male and how many are female. Most companies can break down employee demographics for each gender to show what types of roles they fill and any gender gaps that exist at different levels or job functions.
Global mobility programs should tap into that capability in order to build a story around closing the gender gap. How many assignees are women? Are certain regions more successful at sending women on assignments than others? Are certain critical global career positions lacking gender diversity?
Data gives you a point of focus to draw attention to: where gender gaps exist in the program and where to target specific strategies in order to achieve gender equality goals. Once you have the data, make sure your team is comfortable discussing it and bringing it to the business’ attention. This is an effective way to elevate the global mobility function through formal and informal conversations about assignee gender gap issues.
3. Link Global Mobility to Your Company’s D&I Strategy
Does your organization have a D&I strategy? Are the goals and initiatives relating to gender equality a high priority and receiving visibility? If so, you are in a great position to link your global mobility program to existing initiatives.
This is a chance to elevate the global mobility program to a more strategic talent mobility function. It also gives you some shortcuts for rolling out your program’s own initiatives—take advantage of company-wide themes, strategies, activities, and attach global mobility’s efforts to them.
4. Find Male Allies
One way to strengthen an initiative to support increasing female assignees and decrease unconscious bias is to identify male “allies” (also called “champions”) in your organization and get them actively involved.
Organizations with male senior leaders who actively support the recruitment and retention of women in their organizations are moving much faster towards closing the gender gap than those without this critical support.
Your global mobility program will benefit from high-level male allies who speak to the unconscious bias challenge, value the international assignment experience’s impact on the organization, and actively promote the effort to close the gender gap in the international assignee population.
Male allies can also serve as sponsors or mentors for female assignees who make it into the program. Who are the male allies in your organization? Speak with them to identify ways they can advocate and actively support the goals.
5. Promote Current and Previous Female Assignees
Giving visibility to women who are currently on international assignments, or have already completed their experience, will help raise awareness around the program and help women and their managers to see this as a viable and valuable opportunity.
Profile these women on your company’s Intranet, invite them to speak at global leadership meetings, and post their photos and a compelling quote on your global mobility page. Visibility and promotion play a big role in changing attitudes, breaking down the unconscious bias barrier, and opening possibilities for any employee population that is not always represented in an organization.
Speak to your D&I team to get their input on ways that they utilize visibility in order to help change attitudes and behaviors. The marketing team in your organization might have insights, too. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other parts of your organization to get creative input on finding new ways to eliminate unconscious bias around female assignees and to promote the process of closing the gender gap.
Unconscious biases are not rare, in fact quite the opposite; they reside in all of us. We believe that unconscious bias is one of the most common barriers to overcome in order to increase international assignment opportunities for women.
This year at Crown World Mobility we are actively working with companies to close the assignment gender gap. These five tips are intended to stimulate creative thinking and present actionable steps to raising awareness around how unconscious bias can be addressed in your global mobility program. A recent PwC study showed that 22% of global mobility professionals are actively working to increase female assignees in their organizations. Are you one of them?
Lisa Johnson is Global Practice Leader for Crown World Mobility’s Consulting Services. She is responsible for supporting Crown’s clients and account teams with Global Mobility program and policy design and enhancements. In addition, Johnson is also responsible for Crown World Mobility’s quarterly Perspectives series, along with research and thought leadership output for the organization. Her articles have been published in numerous industry magazines including Mobility, Compensation & Benefits Review, and HR Executive.
Before joining Crown in 2012, Johnson had worked in the industry for 20 years. She has worked extensively in linking mobility to talent management and assignment related ROI strategies, conducting industry-specific research, and leading client-driven consulting engagements.
Additionally, she brings a background in global leadership development, intercultural training and change management initiatives. Johnson is a regular speaker at industry conferences in Asia, EMEA, Latin America, and North America. Born in Japan, and having lived and worked in Central America and Spain, Johnson currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.