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What do male/female perceptions of an international business career suggest about recruitment policies?

There is little doubt that the U.S. economy has become more international and that global issues are of increasing concern to both the business and academic communities (Kahley 1985, 1987, Herr, 1989, Rosendahl 1988, Hyatt 1989, Carnegie Mellon 1989, Dumaine 1989). Growing direct foreign investment in the U.S. increases the likelihood of individuals becoming involved in some form of international commerce (Faltermayer 1990, Hector 1989, Dumaine 1988). Internationalization suggests that the U.S. business community will require greater numbers of managers and other personnel with international business skills to function successfully in this new environment. Compounding the need for managers who can functionably in an environment of increasing complexity, managers of the future will have to be more global in their thinking and more attuned to cultural variation (Bennett 1989, Hymowitz 1989).

The purpose of this study was to examine the attitudes and perceptions of the undergraduate business student, the most likely pool of future international employees, toward an international business career. (Reynolds and Rice, 1988, in a study of 127 U.S. firms, reported that more than half required only a bachelor's degree for an entry level position in international operations.) In addition, our study profiled the gender characteristics of those who might be targeted by business and looked at differences in the attitudes of males and females.

The Study

Four hundred thirty-one junior and senior undergraduate business students completed questionnaires, which were self-administered at six universities in the Southeastern and Inter-mountain regions of the U.S. Ninety-nine (23%) students expressed an interest in international business, and they form the basis of this report. Forty-six were females and 53 were males. Respondents ranged in age from 22 to 35 with the majority between 22 and 23 years. Eighty-seven percent were Caucasian, 65% were majoring in Management or Marketing, and 55% had some knowledge of foreign language (i.e., could speak, read, or write). Almost all were U.S. citizens with birthplaces representing 24 states and 13 countries.

Students were first asked ten yes/no questions regarding the international business emphasis in their university. In a second set of questions, a five-point Likert scale was used to gauge attitudes and perceptions toward the content and context of an international business career. In a last section, students were asked to rank eight factors according to their importance in a decision to accept an international assignment requiring relocation.

The Findings

Preparation for International Business.

Table 1 presents findings from the study which relate to students' interest in and actual preparation for a career in international business. The highlights of these findings include the following:

(1) While close to half of all students were required to take an international business course, about 85% of both sexes responded they would take the course in any case. Apparently, several reported studies have found only a small percentage of companies placing much emphasis on an international education in hiring policies (Reynolds and Rice 1988; Nehrt 1977; Tung 1981).

(2) Only 18% of female respondents had already taken the course compared with 30% of males.

(3) While a surprising number of students had lived outside the U.S., this number included twice as many men as women (28%/14%).
International Business Preparation Profile.
 F M
Believe career choice require relocation 59% 87%
lB is a required course 44 40
Would take the lB course anyway 84 86
Currently enrolled in the IB course 37 38
Have taken the IB course 18 30
Advised to seek IB career 18 25
Advised not to seek IB career 0 0
Member of an lB association 2 0
Have lived outside the U.S. 14 28


Perceptions about IB Career

As shown in Table 2, almost all believe a career in IB will be important for career success in the future, although men are more likely to strongly believe this (42%/20%). Males are also much more likely to feel strongly that they have a competitive advantage in career advancement through international business (43%/15%).

TABULAR DATA OMITTED

Very few of either sex agreed with the statement that international business is not a career for women. On the other hand, 44% of females strongly disagreed that it is not a field for women compared with 23% of men.

Seventy-two percent of females and males believed an international career would require extensive travel outside the U.S., but males more strongly believe this to be true. A majority of both men and women believe that an lB career choice would require them to relocate, although a much larger percentage of men expressed this belief (87%/59%). It should be noted that the question did not ask if they expected to relocate to another country. Eleven percent of women were not interested in working outside the U.S. while only 2% of men were not interested. Men were more willing to relocate outside the U.S. for longer than two years (77%/65%).

More men perceived an lB career as exciting and glamorous (43%/33%), although most of both sexes did not believe they would have a problem adjusting to living in another country (85%/74%). Apparently any travel or relocation requirements were viewed positively rather than negatively by both sexes. However, it seems that a certain segment of both groups (although more women) believed they could have an IB career and remain in the U.S. Sixty-five percent of women disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, "Requires association with cultures with which I have no interest," while 45% of men responded similarly.

Adams (1985), in discussing the necessity and prerequisites for developing an international workforce, suggests that one of the most important factors is a demonstrated ability to adjust to unfamiliar surroundings. Responses from students in this survey strongly suggest they were interested in experiencing other cultures and believed they would have little difficulty adapting to living conditions in other countries.

Most men (78%) and women (74%) also believed an lB position requires greater people skills than a domestic position. However, men agreed more strongly with this statement (61%/44%). A rather large percentage of women (22) disagreed that an IB career would require another language. Only 8% of men disagreed with the statement.

Both groups also believed opportunities in IB were not well publicized, but more females than males shared this belief (73%/64%). While both groups seemed to be rather neutral regarding compensation, men were much more likely to believe strongly that compensation is better in lB (45%/26%). About 76% of both groups would work for a foreign owned business, although men had a more positive attitude toward the experience. This apparently was not an issue, although it might become one in practice.

If a choice were being made, a female manager was preferred over a foreign manager. Large percentages of both men and women would be comfortable working for a female manager and for a foreign manager but women were more likely to be comfortable in both cases (87%/77% and 76%/66%). Men were most likely to be neutral toward living in a country which prohibits women from driving. Women, as would be expected, felt quite strongly that they would not be willing to live with the prohibition.

Factors Important to Accepting Foreign Position.

The three top-ranked factors in considering whether to accept a foreign position were the same for females and males, as shown in Table 3. They included the stability of the country, the ability to take a spouse and children, and the salary and benefits package. However, somewhat more females were concerned with the stability of the country (33%/29%) while more males were interested in the salary and benefits package (17%/11%). These are obvious points in developing recruiting policies and promotional strategies. Women were also more likely to consider the influence of the move on career advancement (9%/6%), ranking it fourth in importance, while men ranked it fifth. Taken with earlier findings, then, women were less likely to believe opportunities for career advancement would be greater in lB but placed more importance on this factor than men. Men were more likely to consider the length of the assignment in their decision (10%/7%), ranking it fourth. Women ranked length of assignment fifth, along with the extent of cultural differences. Again, women expressed more interest in other cultures than men. Men considered cultural differences, living conditions, and location and climate least important.

Implications

The primary focus of this paper was on differences between male and female students in their attitudes and perceptions toward international business careers and the implications of these findings for corporate recruitment policies. While much of the literature has focused on foreign assignments, not all international activities require relocation. Survey results thus have potential relevance for firms hiring for foreign assignments as well as for positions within their national borders.
Table 3
Percentage females and males ranking factor first.
Factor Percentage Ranking #1
 F M
Political stability of country 32.6 28.8
Ability to take spouse and children 28.3 26.9
Salary and benefits package offered 10.9 17.3
Influence on future advancement 8.9 5.7
Length of foreign assignment 6.5 9.6
Degree of cultural difference 6.5 3.8
Living conditions 4.3 3.8
Geographic location and climate 2.2 3.8


Specifically, this research has implications for the clarification of position descriptions, recruitment promotions, and the identification of issues which keep applicants from considering an international position. In some instances, men and women can be treated similarly; in others, differences should be recognized. Based on currently held attitudes and perceptions, recruitment policies for both men and women should incorporate the following points:

* Provide literature to acquaint the recruit with the social and political climate of the country to which they may be assigned. This should help alleviate concern about stability. Prospective employees should be fully informed about all aspects of the job. Because the survey showed that the length of foreign assignment can be an issue, the assignment may need to be moderated for less stable countries.

* Clearly indicate that spouse and children are included in assignment descriptions and promotional messages for the position. The employing organization will appear far more appealing if programs are in place to acclimate the prospect's entire family.

* Balance compensation and promotions decisions against the stability of the country and company policies regarding spouse and children.

Beyond these three foreign assignment recruitment issues are others that apply directly to students who are interested in the broader prospect of an international business career. Those surveyed seemed to be well aware of the pre-eminence of large-scale international business activities and of the potential of these careers for career advancement. However, opportunities in the international arena were not perceived to be well publicized. As a consequence, promotions should identify whether the position is entirely international or includes only some international elements. In addition, job skills (technical as well as interpersonal), travel, foreign language, and prior experience requirements must be clarified. Most of those surveyed accepted the likelihood of extensive travel and possible relocation and were not deterred by working for foreign managers. Indeed, in foreign assignments, neither men nor women seemed put off by the living conditions of another country. These factors, therefore, need not be prominent in recruitment efforts.

Both men and women also tended to perceive that a second language would be necessary for an IB career. Other recent research has indicated that approximately 50% of employing firms would give hiring preference to accounting and business students with a second language skill (Cornick et. al. 1991). If this is a stringent requirement, firms must make sure early in the recruiting process that they can verify applicants' language skills or their capability to develop the skills.

Recruiting Women.

Because women seemed more likely to expect they could have an lB career without foreign relocation, but were just as willing to travel extensively, the firm must identify those elements of relocation that differentiate it from extensive travel and are perceived as negative to the position. We know from this study the negatives are not such factors as living conditions in other countries, working with foreign personnel, or working in other cultures, but tend to be related to the political stability of the foreign country and lengthy separation from family. The recruiting firm, recognizing the political stability factor, may have to closely monitor the countries with which they do business and curtail travel activities during periods of unrest or uncertainty.

Recruiting efforts geared toward women should focus on two aspects of international business. Women, much more than men, were interested in the opportunity international business provides to experience other cultures and broaden themselves. Women were also more likely to believe this career provided the opportunity to utilize and develop people skills. As a consequence, women would appear to be preferred candidates for international positions where the cultural differences are major, due to their interest in other cultures and also their more positive attitude toward working for foreign managers. The funding that women have a very positive attitude toward working in other cultures may mitigate the common view that women are less effective because they are not accepted as equals by the men in those cultures.

Given that international business involves interaction with different cultures, it seems reasonable that greater people skills might be required for those positions than for similar domestic positions. If true, then interpersonal abilities must be clearly explored in the preliminary screening and interviewing process. This may require the firm to improve the training of those involved in evaluating people skills.

Recruiting Men.

Recruitment geared toward male employees should incorporate several features. The fact that men more strongly believed international assignments and activity would enhance their position within the firm and their careers should encourage the recruiting firm to use the "be all that you can be" approach in promotional messages. In addition, the firm must value foreign assignments at least equal to domestic positions and be vigilant in incorporating the valuation in promotion and evaluation policies. Since re-entry is usually a problem for both the individual and the firm in terms of status within the firm, the requirements for international activity should be satisfied, when possible, with travel as opposed to relocation.

While improvements in communication have allowed more international business to be conducted "office to office," there is still a need for face to face activities and, therefore a need for personnel to travel beyond their borders. The research results presented in this paper provide some insights as to what the next generation of managers perceive to be the problems and opportunities in international business positions. Recruiting firms can use this information to fine tune their recruiting programs to more closely reflect these perceptions.

References

Adams, Faneuil, Jr. (1985), "Developing an International Workforce," Columbia Journal of World Business, Vol. 20, 23-25.

Adler, Nancy J. (1984), "Women Do Not Want International Careers: And Other Myths About International Management," Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 13, 2, 66-79.

Bennett, Amanda (1989), "The Chief Executives in Year 2000 Will Be Experienced Abroad," Wail Street Journal, February, A1+7.

Carnegie, Mellon (1989), "Alumni Survey Measures Concern for Global Issues," GSIA Update: 1989 Alumni Survey, Vol. 1, 1-3.

Cornick, Michael F., Vickie Roberts-Glassler and John T. Albertson (1991), "The Value of Foreign Language Skills for Accounting and Business Majors," Journal of Education for Business, Vol. 66, No. 3, 161-163.

Dumaine, Brian (1988), "Japan's Next Push in U.S. Markets," Fortune, September 26, 135, 138-140.

Dumaine, Brian (1989), "CEOs Gird for Global Battle," Fortune, April 24, 65-66.

Faltermayer, Edmund (1990), "Is 'Made in the U.S.A.' Fading Away?," Fortune, September 24, 62-65 + 68, 72-73.

Hector, Gary (1989), "Japan Learns the Takeover Game," Fortune, July 31, 121 + 124-125.

Herr, Ellen M. (1989), "U.S. Business Enterprises Acquired or Established by Foreign Direct Investors in 1988," Survey of Current Business, May 22-30.

Hyatt, Charles (1989), "Marketplace Earth," International Business, Summer, 39-46.

Hymowitz, Carol (1989), "Day in the Life of Tomorrow's Managers: He, or She, Faces a More Diverse, Quicker Market," Wall Street Journal, March 20, B1.

Kahley, William J. (1985), "Foreign Direct Investment: A Bonus for the Southeast," Economic Review: Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, June/July, 4-17.

Kahley, William J. (1987), "Direct Investments Activity of Foreign Firms," Economic Review: Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Summer, 36-51.

Nehrt, L. C. (1977), International Education Project, American Council on Education, Washington, D.C., Occasional Paper No. 4.

Reynolds, John I. and George H. Rice (1988), "American Education for International Business," Management International Review, Vol. 28, No. 3, 48-57.

Rosendahl, Roger W. (1988), "Japanese Investment in the U.S.," International Financial Law Review, September, 27-30.

Tung, R.L. (1981), "Selection and Training of Personnel for Overseas Assignments," Columbia Journal of World Business, Vol. 16, 68-78.

Dr. Hill's publications have focused on the professional services area of marketing and outplacement issues in management; Dr. Tillery's primary research interests are in the field of international strategic management.
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Author:Hill, C. Jeanne; Tillery, Kenneth R.
Publication:SAM Advanced Management Journal
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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