Professional development often involves having an international career. But then, why do I feel like women are considering it less than men? As I felt a bit lonely thinking about taking this adventure myself, I wondered if I would have access to the same opportunities as a man once I graduate.

Women expatriates: behind the scenes

According to an international study carried out by Humanis: “In 92% of expatriation cases, the man’s career is the initiator of mobility while the woman is the one following her husband.”
That means the number of women expatriates is significantly lower compared to men. It even seems that the men-women proportion among expatriates has remained the same for more than ten years: that is, 1 out of 3 French people abroad is a woman.

That proves my point. But may I ask how is this still possible?

You’ll say I’m naïve, but when it comes to moving abroad, I never thought that there would be bias against women, again. It’s hard when you expect a change in mentality and realise that’s not the case. I’m sure we’ve all been there at some point. I remember one of my teachers’ comments a few years ago. In his very own words, we, the women, were not that many to move abroad because: “You are too sensitive, overly attached to your roots and feel safe in your comfort zone. Companies offering you a position abroad are making a big effort knowing that you will need more support and someone to hold your hand. Whereas the period of adaptation for a man is shorter, and the transition is easier to manage.” As you can imagine, some of us tried to fight back, but as disappointing as it can be, this only illustrates the actual situation. A bit too well. On the same topic, Olivier Mérignac talks about the “inexpatriable” woman in his book, Travail, Genre et Sociétés (Work, Gender and Societies). Unsurprisingly, he points out two known prejudices of our society: “They don’t want to” or “They can’t”. “Not motivated enough, not tough enough, more reasonable, less ambitious” and last but not least, “A woman […] would not be accepted by men from the country of expatriation.”

Once again, prejudices prevail over women’s real skills.

Initiatives to encourage women to start an international career

The good news is that companies are now taking initiatives to integrate women into their international development strategies. Among these initiatives, some are developing internal professional women networks. There are plenty of them, such as ConnectHers within BNP Paribas, Women @Capgemini, Women @Coca-Cola, Shell Women network, and much more. Their goal is to promote the career development of women, facilitate the mobility of women within the company and perhaps even abroad. Although there are plenty of them, they are not yet very well-known. They all communicate differently, on different channels and are using various unconnected tools to animate their community, something ThereSheGoes is willing to help them solve. 

Some companies are making an effort to identify highly qualified women at the beginning of their careers. A PWC study shows that many women are particularly keen to look for an international opportunity during the first six years of their career.
Also, something new, they are now trying to develop different types of tailored processes and training to ensure objectivity and neutrality within companies when selecting international profiles. That will hopefully allow more women to expatriate and pursue their careers abroad.

We see the effort and these initiatives as a sign of goodwill. Opportunities are multiplying, giving hope that things will (eventually) change. Nevertheless, reaching equality will take time and patience. In the meantime, we must keep raising awareness of existing disparities and encourage the development of women in the corporate workforce. I tend to believe that bringing all current initiatives and networks together will make a difference in reaching gender equality before the date announced by the United Nations (257 years from now, i.e. in 2277). 

As for myself, I am already looking forward to discovering these networks, whether internal or independent, to boost my chances to develop my career abroad.

After all, who’s going to stop me from having an international career?