Managing Non-traditional Human Capital in International Assignments: A Qualitative Analysis of the Talent and Innovation Gaps

Kowoon Kim and Mary Ann Von Glinow


Talent Gaps in International Assignments: Nontraditional Expatriates

As businesses globalize, companies continue to rely on expatriates for their expertise, since it is often relatively difficult to find qualified local candidates even though local talent pools are widening. As a result, the success of expatriates during the international assignment (IA) has long been seen as a crucial part of the multinational enterprise (MNE)’s performance (Tung, 1981).

The overwhelming majority of MNE expatriates have typically been married white males with accompanying female spouses and children

K. Kim (h) • M.A. Von Glinow

Department of Management & International Business, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA

© The Author(s) 2017

S. Kundu, S. Munjal (eds.), Human Capital and Innovation, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-56561-7_5

(Adler, 1979; Hutchings, French, & Hatcher, 2008; Tung, 1993), sent on IAs of three or more years (Meyskens, Von Glinow, Werther, & Clarke, 2009). Therefore, previous studies on expatriates have mostly focused on traditional “white,” “male” expatriates (Takeuchi, 2010).

However, as global mobility and talent seeking have increased significantly over the past few decades, the workforce is overwhelmingly more diverse in terms of age, gender, race, culture, religion, and sexual orientation (Chatman & O’Reilly, 2004; Dovidio, Kawakami, & Gaertner, 2002; Islam & Hewstone, 1993; Kunze, Bohm, & Bruch, 2011; Ragins, Cornwell, & Miller, 2003; Reskin, 1993; Toossi, 2012) despite the fact that talent trumps diversity. Accordingly, the expatriate population has become more talented and diverse simultaneously (Inkson, Arthur, Pringle, & Barry, 1998; McNulty, 2015; McNulty & Hutchings, 2016). Not only women (Brookfield Global Relocation Services, 2015) but also other non-traditional groups have entered into IAs (McNulty, 2015; McPhail, McNulty, & Hutchings, 2016) . In fact, there has been an explosive growth of self-initiated expatriates (SIEs) with vastly different skill sets (Kim, Halliday, Zhao, Wang, & Von Glinow, 2016) who tend to be less male, younger, single, and often looking for specific assignments in a culture of interest to them (Andresen, Biemann, & Pattie, 2015; Biemann & Andresen, 2010; Suutari & Brewster, 2001).

Halliday, Kim, Zhao, and Von Glinow (2015) introduced three broad types of non-traditional expatriates: LGBT expatriates (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender), religious expatriates (e.g., Christians, Muslims, Jews), and expatriates from non-traditional family compositions (e.g., single parents, female breadwinners, multi-generational families, semiretirees, and those with special needs children).

Bell, Ozbilgin, Beauregard, and Surgevil (2011) asserted that LGBTs represent an increasing proportion of the workforce in the USA, composing nearly 8.8 million potential employees. Similarly, several studies have reported a rising number of LGBT expatriates in recent years (Collins, 2009; Gedro, 2010; Gedro, Mizzi, Rocco, & van Loo, 2013; McNulty & Hutchings, 2016; Paisley & Tayar, 2016). Nonetheless, to date, LGBT employees appear to be less likely to be selected for IAs (Collins, 2009; Gedro, 2010 ; McNulty & Hutchings, 2016 ; Paisley & Tayar, 2016) despite the fact that they may possess the appropriate talent and skill set for IAs. Additionally, even if chosen, LGBT expatriates often do not receive sufficient support from their home MNE; and as a result, they face greater challenges during the IA (Mercer, 2014).

Religious expatriates, who do not share the same religion with the host country’s predominant or official religion, have also been underresearched. In some parts of the world, particularly conservative Muslim countries, religion is central to the host’s daily life, having a significant effect on non-Muslim expatriates (Selmer, 1995) . Deviation from the host country’s religion can make life difficult for such non-Muslim expatriates. For instance, there are arrests and deportations of non-Muslim expatriates in Saudi Arabia due to non-Muslim worship, even though non-Muslim expatriates are permitted to worship in private by law (U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, 2010).

Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (2002) argued that over the past few decades, there have been rapid changes in family structures with an increase in divorced families, unmarried families, and homosexual families. In particular, traditional families have been dramatically transformed to “post-familial families,” reflecting a wide variety of forms. Along with their argument, a new form of non-traditional family, the female breadwinner family, is growing quickly, representing 35 percent of dual-career families (U.S. Department of Labor, 2010). According to a recent survey by Brookfield Global Relocation Services (2014), approximately 18 percent of expatriates represent female breadwinner families with accompanying male spouses.

Expatriates with accompanying elderly parents constitute relatively low proportions (two percent of total expatriates); therefore, this may not be too problematic at present. Not surprisingly, 92 percent of MNEs currently do not have a formal policy for them (Brookfield Global Relocation Services, 2015). However, it is noteworthy that elder care will continue to rise worldwide and pose an issue for MNEs wishing to recruit top talent.

Despite these recent and upcoming changes in global talent pools, many MNEs still maintain a traditional “one-size fits all” strategy to manage non-traditional expatriates. However, “one-size” does not fit all; rather, it is bound to have severe limitations in managing non-traditional expatriates (Hipsher, 2008). This is because non-traditional expatriates differ not only from their traditional counterparts, but also from each other in diversity attributes (e.g., religion, sexual orientation, and family structure) as discussed above. Hence, instead of using a “one-size fits all” approach, inclusive and differentiated human capital management will enable non-traditional expatriates to reach their full potential in IAs. Moreover, inclusive talent management attracts not only top nontraditional expatriates, but also other top talents who advocate diversity in the workplace (Cox & Blake, 1991; Hewlett & Yoshino, 2016). Indeed, according to a recent industry survey (Center for Talent Innovation, 2016), 72 percent of respondents prefer to work for the MNE that is supportive of LGBT employees than one that is not. Consequently, understanding non-traditional expatriates’ international work experiences is essential for maximizing the talent pipeline and achieving successful international human resource management (IHRM).

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