Women as managers

Published: 2019/12/12 Number of words: 3136

International Human Resource Management

Scullion (1995, p. 352 cited in Linehan, 2000) defines international human resource management (IHRM) as human resource management issues that arise from the ‘internationalization of businesses, strategies, policies and practices that firms pursue’ in responding to the call of the internationalisation process. Human resource management (HRM) varies from country to country – the key for organizations that operate across borders is to realize this and to manage coherently in the different countries and adapt to the local environments. The world is becoming more international than ever before; we are now witnessing global work through the creation of new jobs or an organization sourcing certain aspects of an individual’s or unit’s work. Hence most international firms have realized that the key to success depends on IHRM. Corporate human resources (HRs) need to become familiar with international business, finance, legislation, and labour markets as well as any cultural differences, compensation and benefits. The HRM complexities do not end there: the number of parties an HR manager sees increases. These include staff at the headquarters of the firm (HQ), regional and subsidiary managers, HQ and subsidiary employees, national, regional and international trade union bodies, national and international legislative bodies and local, regional and international communities (Harris et al, 2003).

Torrington (1994) makes two points about IHRM: first, not to copy the best practices from one country to another and secondly, it is not a matter of international managers learning the cultures of every country that they have to deal with. The aim should be to make it easier for employees to appreciate and effectively handle cultural constraints by developing empathy for those of a different culture and to take into account the language, national customs, legal and regulatory environments and any other differences that arise as a result of relocation.

In most organizations the cost of labour still stands out as the prevalent single item of operating that can be controlled and adapted to circumstances. It now is becoming obvious in most organizations that there is need to adopt international orientation in their functional activities.

IHRM can be considered under three sub-headings: cross-cultural management, comparative human resource management and international human resource management (Harris et al., 2003).


Cross-cultural management

Every country or society has its own deeply rooted values and beliefs which will differ between countries and are reflected in the organisation of the society. National values and beliefs affect the way people organize, carry out and administer operations. Hence an awareness of cultural differences becomes crucial if IHRM is to be effective. Cultural factors also affects HR activities such as recruitment and selection, training and development, reward and appraisal. There is empirical evidence that employees and managers from divergent cultures are different in the processes, behaviors and values when it comes to decision-making (Harris et al., 2003). Culture plays an important role in shaping an organization in terms of leadership styles – being a good leader in the UK is not the same as being a good leader in another part of the world. Cross-cultural studies indicate a connection between culture and leadership/management style.


Women as effective international managers

More and more organisations are hiring, promoting and retaining talented women; women are being called the managers of the 21st century (Rosen et al., 1989; Schwartz 1992; and Fischer, 1998; cited in Davidson and Burke, 2000). The competitive global economy is an indicator that before long women will be in charge and that no organisation can waste ‘brainpower because it’s wearing a skirt’ (Fisher, 1992).

Tarvris (1991) describes women as ‘opposite and superior as managers’; this is in line with the feminization of management phenomenon. Organisations are replacing control with learning; hierarchical and task-oriented leadership are now making way for better methods of managing high-involvement work teams (Bohl et al., 1996). Empirical studies (Davidson and Burke, 2000) show that most female international managers use a ‘team management’ leadership style.

So what is the feminization of management? Fondas (1997 cited in Davidson and Burke, 2000) says that today’s management can be described more in terms of traditional feminine terms in that it is adopting responsibility sharing, helping and developing others and building a strong network of relationships. Recent developments in organizations that are adopting the feminine style of leadership is recommended by Rosener (1990). Women are expected to be more relationship-oriented as well as nurturing and caring. Organizations that have a flatter structure that is more team orientated appreciate these qualities and promote more women into management positions (Grant, 1988; Helgsen, 1990; Rosener, 1991; Thooft, 1994; cited in (Davidson and Burke, 2000). Mintzberg maintains that organisations need the nurturing qualities normally associated with women in management.

Female expatriates are not held to the same limiting roles that restrict local women; there has been outstanding performances by women in areas where home managers have been skeptical about sending them (Adler, 1987; Adler and Jelinek, 1988).There is no career path that guarantees success. All managers must willing to accept several different positions to gain the strategic position of the organisation and get exposure to various areas.


Career Development

‘Statistics show that women represent a third of the world’s workforce, do two thirds of world’s working hours, but they earn a tenth of the world’s income and hold 1% of the world’s executive positions’ (Berthoin and Izraeli, 1993). For pioneering female international managers, being visible means being considered as a test case, which increases performance pressure (Linehan, 2000).

For women, their gender is a barrier to promotion and can limit career prospects such as international assignments. Women are susceptible to sex discrimination, prejudice and inadequate job training compared with their male counterparts (Linehan, 2002). When it comes to promotion, women are judged not so much on their abilities and achievements but on their family life, responsibilities and future intentions (Flanders, 1994 cited in Linehan, 2000). For future international managers, organisations pick the high fliers and the assessment of such potential takes place in the initial stages of the employee’s career (Harris 1995b). Given the biases and challenges women have to contend in the early stages of their careers, their chances of promotion to management positions are slim.


A model of a female international manager’s career move

It evident that female’s career path differs from that of her male counterpart and she faces far more obstacles to international management.

The model of female international managers has three elements as shown below:


Source: Linehan, 2000; p. 166

Fig 1.2

Three-phase model of the senior international manager’s career move


The Model Explained:

Phase 1: Circumstances antecedent to expatriation assignment

The model explains how females face far more difficulties than their male counterparts.

Stage one of this phase emphasizes that women aspiring to international management m have experience of management in their home countries before being considered for a career move. It appears that from empirical research (shown in Linehan, 2002) that proving her abilities is one of greatest challenges facing female managers.

The second stage involves deciding to apply for an international career move when, again, the senior female managers get excluded. Home country senior managers are reluctant to select female managers for international assignments. Then when they do apply, they experience the glass ceiling: exclusion from networks, managerial style conflict, gender identity being made an issue, lack of a defined female career path and a lack of mentors.

The third stage has to do with the preparation for an international assignment, which is fundamental. Female managers say that the challenge of this stage is lack of enough time to prepare for international assignments. There is often a very short period of time between the announcement of a transfer and the actual move. This gives rise to obstacles such as a lack of organisational training, trailing spouses and dual careers, and disorder of the manager’s personal life.


Phase 2: Circumstances during the expatriation assignment

Linehan (2000) highlights the obstacles of this stage as being additional work versus work conflict, lack of organisation to support dual-career issues, a longer adjustment period, uncertainty regarding re-entry, organisational policies that are too rigid especially at the beginning, tokenism, managerial style inconsistency, women managers being used for test cases and lack of networks.


Phase 3: Post expatriation circumstances

On repatriation, managers are faced with difficulties of re-adjusting both on professional and personal grounds. Among other problems the repatriation process lacks clarity (leading to poor work adjustment) and inadequate training before repatriation. Linehan (2000) maintains that repatriation can be tougher than expatriation if not managed well.

Re-entry difficulties are big threats to the career of a female international manager. Many female managers will have missed out on promotional opportunities because of their lack of a network, being redeployed to other positions and the risk of the woman outgrowing her home organisation.

In repatriation, the lack of role models may be a problem; role models provide information advice, power and influence, all of which are vital in an international management career. A mentor can help to make the repatriation process easier for international managers. Female international managers have even greater needs for a mentor than their male counterparts as there are few precedents for women managers. Organisations should understand the importance of mentors in advising, supporting and sponsoring subordinate managers as these managers embark on an international management career.

Linehan (2000) has shown that in all the three stages, the characteristics of an international manager are male biased. Further, because women rarely get asked to go on international assignments, they need to prove themselves more than their male counterparts and must ask for the positions because they will seldom be offered. Home-country managers presuppose that women in dual-career marriages are not able to take up the challenges of an international assignment.


Barriers to women in management

It is relatively simple for women to gain employment and move to lower levels of management within the organization; it is more difficult for them to move to middle and senior management positions even in the more enlightened part of the world like the USA (Davidson and Cooper, 1992, p13). Women not only face the glass ceiling but also the glass wall: the former is a subtle barrier that prevents women from advancing up the hierarchy of the organization while the latter denies women lateral movement within the organization (Morrison and Von Glinow, 1990, p.300; citied in Linehan, 2000). There are many women in junior and middle management positions; those who aspire to international or senior-level management face barriers not encountered by their male equals (Linehan, 2000).

The top managers in home organizations are reluctant to employ women in expatriate positions. Therefore hence the number of women expatriate managers is fraction of the total number of women in employment and in management levels. There are assumptions that female managers/expatriates may lack the stereotypical characteristics associated with male managers and also their availability, suitability and their aspirations to take up international assignments gets questioned. Various empirical studies have argued that it is difficult to identify the exact number of women in international management or women in senior positions because the definition of the term ‘manager’ varies from one society to another. Administrative roles have been confused with that of management roles, which adds to the lack of accurate statistics of the total number of women managers in organizations.

Research done by Smith and Still (1996, cited in Linehan, 2000) discloses some organizational barriers that can exacerbate the glass ceiling experience – a lonely and non-supportive working environment, differences being regarded as weakness, and a failure to balance work and personal issues. Davidson and Burke (2000) add to this a commitment to family responsibilities, lack of mentoring, failure of senior managers to be accountable for women’s advancement, male stereotyping and exclusion from the informal network of communication.

Studies and reviews to compare male and female managers’ differences and similarities have established more similarities than differences. Any differences have been attributed to factors that are associated with a low proportion of female managers’ differences in attitude rather than as a result of being female.

There are certain problems and pressures that are unique to international female managers:

  1. Burdens of coping with role of the ‘token’ woman
  2. Being a test case for the future
  3. Lack of role models
  4. Strains and stress of coping with sex stereotyping and prejudice
  5. Indirect discrimination from employees

Women in IM are faced with the hard task of breaking into the male dominated ‘club’; this is evident when they find themselves denied policy information, contacts and opportunities.



Investing in education and training has given both men and women fair chances to enter into senior management positions. The accessible research conducted on women in international management indicate that of the organizations that promote women through their domestic managerial hierarchy, few offer women the opportunity to pursue the international assignments (Adler 1993; Adler and Izraeli, 1988). Organizations can support women’s advancement by implementing particular career planning development strategies, giving access to high visibility jobs, career coaching and mentoring, cross-functional job rotation and executive training and education.

According to Storey (1989) a lot relies on the organisation’s view of women: are they an asset or a liability? Management’s perception of women and an understanding of particular issues specific to women will to a great degree shape the attitude and the nature of the employer.

A further barrier that women aspiring to an international management post or expatriate assignments have to confront is the attitude of the senior managers. Forget the best practices of the employers – deep-rooted mind-sets remain regarding working women, especially those who are married. They are seen as less ambitious, not worth training or promoting, less reliable (because they might take time off for domestic obligations) and less committed compared to the male counterpart.
In summary, it is evident that women encounter very real barriers to promotion and expatriated assignments. While the legislation and corporate practices supposedly address this and remove the barriers, it is time that the stereotypical attitudes were also addressed and removed.


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