Diversity and Global Talent Management: Are There Cracks in the Glass Ceiling and Glass Border?

By Bruning, Nealia S.; Cadigan, Francoise | People & Strategy, September 2014 | Go to article overview

Diversity and Global Talent Management: Are There Cracks in the Glass Ceiling and Glass Border?


Bruning, Nealia S., Cadigan, Francoise, People & Strategy


Workforce diversity management has become one of the biggest challenges in human resource management, and understanding the dynamics of multicultural workplaces has gained relevance in the talent management field (Sharma 2012), but is considered important to support competitive advantage efforts (Levy 2002; Sharma 2012; Tarique & Schuler 2010). Increased globalization of business has fueled a demand for executives with broad experience at the local, regional, and global levels (Egan & Bendick 2003; Levy 2002). When well-managed, workplace diversity aids in mitigating the high reported rates of expatriate failure, a concept that is not fundamentally well understood (Sharma 2012).

Although there is an increased need and short supply of global managers (Catalyst 2001) and a breakdown in some of the selection barriers (Altman & Shortland 2008), female expatriates comprise approximately 20 percent of the expatriate population (Brookfield 2014). Higher rates for female expatriates are found in Asia and lower rates are found in the cluster of countries that include Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (Brookfield 2013). Industry differences are also noted, with healthcare and consumer products reporting higher percentages of female expatriates and energy and transportation reporting the lowest percentages (Brookfield 2013).

Low levels of female expatriates present a dilemma for global talent management. A perfect storm-illustrated by the glass border (Mandelker 1994) and glass ceiling (Morrison, White, & Van Velsor 1992)-has traditionally characterized the promotion of women to top executive positions in global and multinational firms. Global firms tend to promote managers with international experience, yet with low numbers of women on expatriate assignments, they fail to gain the international experience (glass border) necessary for promotion to higher level positions (glass ceiling). There are estimates that only 3 percernt of international managers are women, and they face many barriers to their upward progression, such as few mentors, less developed networks, traditional beliefs about "male" and "female" jobs, and poor repatriation processes (Linehan, Scullion, & Walsh 2001; Linehan 8c Scullion 2001,2002, 2008; Linehan & Walsh 1999). The underdevelopment of women as global managers ignores data that confirms that women possess skills and intelligence at equivalent levels to men, have unique traits that emphasize cooperation, trust, and empathy more than competition and aggression, and tend to emphasize issues of work-life balance that are of interest to all employees (Adler 1994; Guthrie, Ash, &c Stevens 2003; Levy 2002; Sinangil & Ones 2003). This study summarizes one large Lrench-based multinational telecommunication firm's attempt to understand the existence of the glass border and glass ceiling effects in their firm.

Sample and Results

The firm operates in more than 130 countries with approximately 17 billion euros in revenues. The managers were interested in:

* how well international assignments contribute to workforce diversity

* whether there are legitimate reasons that more men than women are selected for these types of assignments

As a strategic objective, the firm's management would like to achieve a versatile global management talent pool where employees from one country could be assigned to other countries in a matrix type of exchange (e.g., manager from China assigned to Lrance, manager from Canada assigned to South Africa, and so forth) on an as needed basis. The management of the firm had concerns about the low percentages of women in top executive positions (less than 5 percent) and were motivated to determine how the expatriate assignment process contributes to the low representation of women at top levels within the firm. The data from the survey provides insight that could transfer to other firms with similar concerns. …

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