Secret diary of a board babe: Our own relocation package, which does not include support for families moving abroad, is putting mothers at a career disadvantage. I am fighting to change my firm's policy.
Our company employs a 75:25 split of females to males. Of the 256 global assignments in 2011/2012, less than a quarter were taken up by women. Of the women who were approached for global secondments or moves, those who declined did so because they had families and our relocation policy did not consider families as part of the support package.
We are an international company employing far more women than men, and yet it is our male employees, by and large, that get to take up the opportunities to work abroad.
All because our jobs relocation packages do not consider families and mothers feel they cannot leave their children behind, quite understandably, to go and work overseas for months on end. Our stats show it is often the father, or young men and women without children, who can take advantage of this.
Some of my close female colleagues have lost out on international opportunities within my organisation and this riles me. We all know that if you can spend time abroad in a big multinational, that will help you progress up the career ladder . Women that work for us are being put at a disadvantage in their careers.
I discovered all this during a recent budget review process. Our board met to analyse the annual spend and discuss areas of cost savings. One area that instigated significant discussion and debate was around how we hire people into the business. We value our people significantly and invest in training and development more so than most organisations I’ve worked for before.
We do however; look for the highest calibre of people we can find. We’ve paid astronomical fees to search firms and recruitment agencies over the last year. This led us to look at the opportunities we’ve taken, and lost, to share our best workers across the organisation globally. So-called "global mobility" statistics were pulled – how often workers are tasked to move abroad on short-term assignments – and the results I saw were shocking.
I’m not sure what riled me more; the fact that we are a female majority organisation but so few get to go abroad, or that mothers who may have wanted to continue their career internationally have felt unable to, because we didn’t facilitate their progression. In a country where inequality still exists, I couldn’t believe we were actually contributing to it.
I am now working with my colleagues to bringing about change to the relocation policy to support our own female talent, and their families, taking up international assignments.
We have had positive support so far, and what I am working on is calculating the cost benefit of keeping internal talent, rather than outsourcing positions at considerable time, labour and spend. It may be cheaper for us to help our very driven, very talented employees (and mostly women right on our doorstep) to relocate abroad with their families than bring in external talent, no expenses spared.
I often reflect on situations like this one, and wonder why we haven’t taken action before. Perhaps no one else asked the question, or asked for the numbers which are so concerning in what they bring to light.
I would never want to think that my career would be hindered by my own company’s policies or lack of support. Anything we can do now, for all the mothers and carers in this company, is a job well worth the effort, the influencing, challenging conversations and perseverance. It's times like now when I value the decision-making power I have, and the potential change I can bring about with the support of my board team.
Board Babe sits on the executive board of a multinational company with more than 10,000 employees. In her weekly blog, she reveals the ups and downs of being a woman at the top in a corporate environment.
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