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Moving to shape female leaders

Offering women international job postings will benefit companies

One of the themes in the Committee on the Future Economy's report is to establish Singapore as a platform where talent and ideas create opportunities.

It is noted that the cities that will enjoy high-quality growth and way of life will be those that welcome new ideas and embrace diversity.

Does Singapore, or our organisations of the future, have robust mobility strategies, which will ensure the efficient movement of diverse human capital (female resources) across functions, geographical locations, skills, sectors and businesses? Can Singapore attract a gender-diverse workforce from the region or from more developed markets?

Boston Consulting Group's research indicated that 55 per cent of the women surveyed (including 44 per cent of women in relationships and with children) are willing to move abroad for a job assignment. But only a small subset of women currently get the opportunity to take international postings.

The good news for chief executive officers is that by taking steps to make international postings more attractive to women and by influencing their willingness to take such postings, they can create more balanced leadership teams and ultimately improve their performance. Here are five key priorities:

FOCUSING ON FEMALE EMPLOYEES EARLY IN THEIR CAREERS

Women in their 20s - particularly those single and without children - report the greatest willingness to travel. That willingness drops as they get older, are part of a relationship or have children.

So companies should aim mobility programmes at women during their first few years in the organisation.

AIMING TO REACH AS MANY WOMEN AS POSSIBLE

When seeking candidates for international job assignments, managers can ensure that applications are considered in a structured, merit-based manner.

Besides, international assignments become even more attractive if the company offers all employees opportunities to choose from a selection of destinations, so that their working partners will also have a range of employment options to consider.

PROVIDING LOGISTICAL SUPPORT

All employees being transferred abroad need a designated in-country sponsor who can advise employees on how to handle the challenges associated with accommodation, taxes, immigration law, insurance and healthcare.

Our research indicated that this form of logistical support is disproportionately important to women, and companies must also be prepared to accommodate employees who have children.

DEVELOPING A COMPELLING COMMUNICATION STRATEGY

Our data showed that when considering international postings, men see somewhat greater value in the prospect of a higher salary, while women see somewhat greater value in the opportunity to learn a new language.

In view of these findings, companies can describe new international opportunities in ways that highlight the attributes both men and women value.

Companies can also arrange open houses, town hall meetings, online discussion boards, Intranet portals and other forums for employees to discuss the international opportunities.

CREATING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES FOR WOMEN WHO CAN'T RELOCATE

For high-potential women who cannot relocate abroad, companies can find other approaches that will help them broaden their experience.

Internal rotations would give them insight into how other functions and business units operate.

Companies can also offer opportunities in other domestic locations, and they can give high-potential women temporary assignments in adjacent organisations, such as suppliers or clients.

There is a clear business case for gender diversity on leadership teams, and international postings can play a crucial role in improving performance of such diverse teams.

International assignments give employees critical experience in dealing with the company's functions and operations in various locations.

Employees return better equipped to assume new responsibilities and, having broadened their professional networks and established credibility among their colleagues and supervisors, they are stronger candidates for leadership positions.

The writer is a partner and managing director of Boston Consulting Group and a member of the Committee on the Future Economy. This article was published in The Business Times .

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