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Role models: expatriate gender diversity pipeline or pipe-dream?

Susan Shortland (Faculty of Business & Law, London Metropolitan University, London, UK)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 2 September 2014




The purpose of this paper is to examine the extent to which – and how – female expatriate role models support women to take up expatriate assignments in the male-dominated oil and gas industry.


The research uses data from a census survey of female expatriates supported by semi-structured interviews with a stratified sample of the survey respondents, triangulated with interviews with human resource (HR) professionals and analysis of organizational policy relevant to expatriation.


Potential assignees value the information that women role models can provide on living in challenging, masculine locations. Role models are particularly important to women undertaking unaccompanied assignments and also when assignment periods exceed traditional lengths. Current female expatriates do not view themselves as role models, despite HR professionals recognizing their value in inspiring women's expatriation.

Research limitations/implications

This research was set in a sector with very few female expatriate role models. Further research is needed to understand the influence of role models on women's expatriation in different sectors and organizations with greater female role model representation.

Practical implications

Training for current assignees, time to be set aside within work duties and communications links to enable current and returned female expatriates to connect with potential assignees are needed to widen expatriate gender diversity.


This research contributes to theory by linking the importance of role models to women's career stages. It proposes a new theoretical contribution by linking role model importance to the types of assignments women undertake. Practical suggestions for organizations are given to widen expatriate gender diversity via support for role models.



The author wishes to thank Professor Stephen Perkins, Laura Baker, the two anonymous reviewers, the associate editor and the editor for their valuable assistance and support in improving this article's structure, content and presentation.


Shortland, S. (2014), "Role models: expatriate gender diversity pipeline or pipe-dream?", Career Development International, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 572-594.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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