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

Maria Bastida (School of Economics and Business, University of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, Spain)
Luisa Helena Helena Ferreira Pinto (School of Economics, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal)
Anne-Wil Harzing (Business School, Middlesex University, London, UK) (TiSEM, Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands)

Journal of Global Mobility

ISSN: 2049-8799

Article publication date: 23 August 2021

Issue publication date: 14 September 2021




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.


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.


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.


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.



Bastida, M., Pinto, L.H.H.F. and Harzing, A.-W. (2021), "No room at the top? A system dynamics view of the recursive consequences of women's underrepresentation in international assignments", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 361-381.



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