No room at the top? A system dynamics view of the recursive consequences of women's underrepresentation in international assignments

Maria Bastida*, Luisa Helena Helena Ferreira Pinto, Anne Wil Harzing

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Purpose: The expatriation literature has developed an insightful body of research on the reasons why women are not assigned abroad as frequently as men. However, the authors know very little about the systemic and recursive consequences of women's underrepresentation in international assignments (IAs), which are examined in this conceptual paper. Design/methodology/approach: Drawing upon expatriation research and a system dynamics perspective, the authors propose a conceptual model to explain both women's underrepresentation in IAs and its recursive consequences. Findings: The authors highlight how women's underrepresentation in IAs results from a complex system of recursive effects that jeopardizes women's professional development and undermines both their own career progression to top management and firms' competitive advantage and international growth. The authors argue that organizations make decisions that contravene their own interest in a competitive global context. First is that they are limiting their talent pool by not considering female candidates. Second is that they are missing the opportunity to use IAs to advance women's careers. Research limitations/implications: The model provides a solid grounding for future research on selecting the most effective organizational actions and designing supportive measures to disrupt the persistent dynamics contributing to women's underrepresentation in IAs. Future research could also expand our study by incorporating individual differences and the proactive role that women may take. Practical implications: The model points to specific managerial interventions (e.g. increased access to job training and specific training ahead of the assignment, dual-career support, women's mentoring and affirmative action) which have the potential to reduce women's underrepresentation in IAs and in top management. Originality/value: The system dynamics approach enables a broader understanding of why women are underrepresented in IAs, how this underrepresentation further exacerbates gender segregation in international business, and how these recursive outcomes can be averted to the advantage of firms' sustainable growth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-381
JournalJournal of Global Mobility
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


  • Careers
  • Expatriate selection
  • International assignments
  • System dynamics
  • Women expatriates


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