Knowledge Center

Passport to Opportunity: U.S. Women in Global Business

Despite the need for a larger pool of global managers, U.S. companies barely tap one of their most valuable labor pools: women. This guidebook examines the barriers that prevent women from gaining global business experience and offers strategies and company practices for corporate leaders who want to shatter those glass borders.

Impetus: Global experience is becoming a more essential requirement for those who aspire to senior leadership positions. Expatriates are typically drawn from middle management where women comprise one-half of managers and professionals. Yet women made up only 13 percent of expatriates in U.S. corporations (Windham International, 1997). This study sought to find out why so few women are getting this increasingly important opportunity.


  • Interviews and focus groups held with 50 participants in three different companies.

  • Company practices research and interviews in 25 companies.

  • Surveys sent to expatriates, expatriate spouses, and frequent flyers (those with global positions and are based in their home country) in ten organizations.

  • Surveys sent to 522 human resources executives in major corporations and professional firms.

Findings: Women encounter numerous obstacles in getting selected for international assignments, such as stereotypes about their ability to build relationships with key customers and clients in the host country and their ability to relocate due to their family responsibilities. However, these assumptions do not necessarily match women’s actual experiences. Women frequent flyers—those who have not already relocated—are more likely than their male counterparts to say they would relocate in the future. Once abroad, women expatriates appear to be as satisfied as their male counterparts, but they want more formal supports such as mentoring, networking, and work/life programs. Organizations need to debunk myths and provide women employees with global opportunities as well as provide concrete supports to ensure their success.

Sponsors: The Chase Manhattan Corporation, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Deloitte & Touche, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, The Gillette Company, Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., Pfizer Inc.