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Several recent studies have shown a significant positive relationship between an organization's bottom line and its ability to develop global leaders (e.g., Black, Gregersen, Mendenhall, & Stroh, 1999; Stroh, Varma, & Valy-Durbin, 2000; Travers & Pemberton, 2000). In that proper selection is a key determinant of whether an international assignment is a success or a failure, selecting the best candidates for international assignments is clearly an extremely important task (Arthur & Bennett, 1995; Tung, 1998). Yet, as a close look at the selection process reveals, there are some curious anomalies in who is selected for these assignments.
For example, although as of 1998 women represented 47% of the U.S. workforce (Feltes & Steinhaus, 1998; Catalyst, 2000), they comprised a mere 13% to 14% of employees on international assignments (Solomon, 1998; Tung, 1998). This imbalance in male-female representation for international assignments has critical implications for organizational success, as well as for women's careers. If women are not sent on international assignments as often as men, their chances of moving up the corporate ladder are limited, thus contributing to the glass ceiling. In this paper, we explore why so few females are sent on international assignments, by applying an existing theory to help explain this phenomenon. Because it is typically supervisors who decide which employees are given these often prestigious assignments, an investigation of the supervisor-subordinate relationship appears to be an excellent starting point from which to explain why the proportion of women is so small.
WHY ARE WOMEN BEING LEFT AT HOME?
Several studies have examined why such a disproportionately small percentage of women are selected for international assignments (Adler, 1984; Ioannou, 1994). For example, of more than 1,000 students graduating from MBA programs that Adler surveyed, equal percentages of men and women were interested in accepting international assignments. Similarly, female executives interviewed for a study conducted by International Business scoffed at the idea that women were less willing than men to accept these assignments (Ioannou, 1994).
Studies have also examined biases among managers in their willingness to send women on international assignments. For example, Adler (1984) noted that the management in more than half the companies that participated in her study said they hesitated to send women overseas. One explanation managers often offer for this unwillingness is that women encounter more prejudice on international assignments than men, making it difficult for women on international assignments to succeed. In fact, research shows that, rather than being less successful than their male counterparts, women on international assignments are often more successful (Adler, 1987; Bourne, 1999). According to Tung (1998) and Stroh and her colleagues (Stroh et al., 2000), women assigned to culturally "tough" countries are also quite effective, even though they may initially experience greater prejudice from the host country because they are women. The obvious question, then, is, why are companies hesitant to send women overseas?
One recent study shows that the most important factor in being selected for an international assignment is one's supervisor (Stroh et al., 2000). In this connection, Varma, Stroh, and Valy-Durbin (2000) collected data from female international assignees and their supervisors in 44 companies, that were members of the International Personnel Association, to study the impact of supervisor-subordinate relationships on female employees' selection for international assignments. The researchers reported that supervisors perceived their relationships with their female subordinates as much better than the female subordinates did. At the same time, the female subordinates showed a significantly higher agreement with their female supervisors than with their male supervisors in their perceptions of these …