Mercer’s research shows how greater participation of women in the workforce is a driving source of growth for companies. This aligns with other case studies illustrating that a diverse workforce and inclusion increases the performance of companies. Diversity is not limited to gender diversity, but may also include ethnicity, nationality, religion, disabilities, sexual orientation, age and social status.


Is Mobility a driver for advancement, and a trigger for a two tier workforce?


In many multinational companies, an international assignment is presented as a way to advance. The assumed conclusion is that a divide exists where employees without international experience will be on a slower career path. Having greater assignee diversity can help women and “invisible minorities” breach potential glass ceilings. “Invisible minorities” refers to employees who could face potential diversity issues that companies are not aware of – for example, marital status (unmarried couples), or a specific situation (single parents).


The risk is the development of two workforces.


  • On one side are internationally mobile employees able to take advantage of the benefits of global mobility to boost their career. Either within their companies or to make themselves attractive for other companies.
  • On the other side are employees without international experience who are not benefiting from global mobility opportunities. They are on a slower career path, and might even be forced to relocate just to preserve their job (constrained mobility).

From a diversity perspective, there is evidence that women and some minorities might be on the wrong side of the mobility divide. Globally, on average, only 14% of international assignment roles are filled by women, as reported by Mercer’s 2017 Worldwide Survey of international Assignment Policies and Practice Report (WIAPP).


What causes the growth challenge of women assignees? What can be done?


Unconscious bias and policies that are not suitable for minorities’ e.g. single parents, same-sex couples, workers caring for elderly parents, employees with disabilities, and other groups with specific requirements are potentially the source of stagnated growth in the diversity of assignees.


A first objective of any internal diversity policy for assignees is to fight the potential unconscious bias that ‘specific groups cannot go on assignment’. This needs to be addressed by involving diversity teams and managers in strategic mobility meetings.


Secondly, the content of policies should be addressed. Historically, mobility policies have been designed for traditional (western) expatriates with trailing (female) spouses and children enrolled in international schools. Mobility diversity policies can as well sometimes be disconnected from the reality of hardship locations. It is important to distinguish between objective barriers to mobility, prejudices and issues that can be mitigated through cultural training, facilitation, and practical support.


Within your company, flexibility and adaptability can make all the difference!


A small adjustment, rather than a complete change to policies, may be what is needed. Most terms and conditions in policies can remain valid for all groups, but minor adjustments and adding a degree of flexibility can make the difference and help remove barriers to mobility for specific employee groups. 


A good example of a provision supporting greater diversity of assignees is to provide day care support, which is not included in most policies. A staggering 71% of companies do not pay for day care as reported by Mercer’s 2017 WIAPP Report.


Please find the link to this years survey on our MERCER MOBILITY EXCHANGE platform – our innovative new platform, designed to engage Mercer clients and empower them to be a part of a global sharing of ideas and information. 




Progress Report: Nine Mobility Management Solutions for 2018


Dilemma 7: Challenges of Diversity in Non-diverse Locations


Making Talent Mobility Policies Work for All Employees


The Path to Diversity: Women on Assignment


When Women Thrive

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