News and Announcements

Misconceptions About Women in the Global Arena Keep Their Numbers Low

Shortage of Global Managers Hindering Companies’ Ability to Expand Globally

Misconceptions about women’s abilities to handle international assignments and their willingness to accept these assignments are key barriers to women getting selected for the global business arena, according to a new Catalyst study released today at a press breakfast at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan. Passport to Opportunity: U.S. Women in Global Businessexplores the reasons why only 13 percent of American managers sent abroad are women, despite the fact that they represent 49% of all managers and professionals.

Survey respondents believe that women are not as “internationally mobile” as men, yet 80 percent of women expatriates (working abroad) have never turned down a relocation, compared to 71 percent of men. A second powerful assumption is that women encounter more work/life conflict working on a global schedule. However, nearly half of both women and men report they find work/life balance difficult. Lastly, survey respondents believe clients outside the US are not as comfortable doing business with women as they are with men. In fact, 76 percent of expatriate women said being a woman had a positive or neutral impact on their effectiveness overseas.

The preconceptions that emerged in this study about women’s abilities in the international arena are held by both men and women, managers and human resources executives. Yet, paradoxically, 90 percent of women expatriates, 91 percent of women with global responsibility who haven’t relocated (frequent flyers), and 93 percent of men married to expatriates said they would accept their current assignment again. In fact, current expatriates (85 percent) and former expatriates (86 percent) believe global experience makes them more marketable to other companies.

“The bottom line is that these stereotypes — one on top of the other — make it less likely that decision makers are going to think of women managers when they build executive global teams,” said Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst. “This is doubly destructive because as it turns out, women want these assignments, they do well abroad, and they told Catalyst they would seize the opportunity again.”

The majority of human resources executives surveyed said they are experiencing a shortage of global managers. Almost half of all of these executives said developing global talent is now a high priority at their organizations and 80 percent agree it will be a high priority within the next five years. Despite a need for more global managers, US companies barely tap their pool of women managers. Expatriates are typically drawn from middle management ranks where women comprise half of the talent pool.

Catalyst interviewed and surveyed more than 1,000 women and men current and former expatriates, expatriates’ spouses, frequent flyers, and human resources executives. Men and women are nearly equally represented in this Catalyst study. Fifty-five percent of women expatriates are married, in contrast to 78 percent of men expatriates. Of these married women, 91 percent have husbands who work, compared to their male counterparts, of whom 50 percent have wives who work. People of color account for nearly a quarter of expatriates surveyed.

Catalyst recommends that companies implement formal policies and programs that offer women global assignments throughout their career; improve employment support for dual-career couples; offer mentoring and networking support while abroad; value alternatives to relocation; and assist expatriates on transitioning back to the US.

The press breakfast, attended by media and 250 business managers and professionals, began with a presentation of findings by Catalyst President Sheila Wellington. Rennie Roberts, Executive Vice President and COO of Catalyst, then moderated a panel discussion. Panelists included Patricia S. Bellinger, VP of Global Diversity & Inclusion, BP Amoco plc; Lori Roland, Program Director, Global Business Management, Oral Care, The Gillette Company; Elizabeth Clary Chow, Managing Director, Global Telecommunications, Media & Technology Group, Chase Securities; and Julie Zerbe, VP, Human Resources, Colgate-Palmolive Company.

This study, presented as a guidebook of strategies to help companies take full advantage of their management pool, was sponsored by The Chase Manhattan Corporation, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Deloitte & Touche, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, The Gillette Company, Pfizer Inc., and Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc.

Catalyst is a nonprofit research and advisory organization that works to advance women in business. Its dual mission is to enable professional women to achieve their maximum potential and to help employers capitalize on the talents of their female employees. For more information, please call Catalyst at (212) 514-7600 or visit our website at