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Impostor Syndrome – Empowering Diverse Talent in International Assignments

Awareness of privilege and bias in employment has significantly increased over recent years however often remains neglected in the area of international assignments. At the same time, many global organisations specify international experience as a requirement for the most senior roles, creating barriers to those who have not benefitted from those opportunities, in progressing to the top.

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Impostor syndrome – doubting your own skills and abilities, even feeling a fraud – remains a significant factor that organisations need to address. This is especially true for talent from under-represented communities and when it comes to international assignments, the challenge grows.

The proportion of employees coming from backgrounds with high exposure to international travel will be very small. The number coming from a background where the lead assignee was from a marginalised community will be even smaller. As a result, awareness of international assignments, what they entail, and the experiences offered will be very low – confidence that international assignments are for all, will be even lower.

Given impostor syndrome is a barrier to success in home-country roles which do not require moving away from everything you know, this becomes significantly exacerbated where awareness of the opportunity is low. Under-represented groups are less likely to have the networks and exposure that can help promote opportunities.

Even when awareness is there, it remains an issue. I recall vividly the desire to work internationally but at a loss as to where to start – a complete lack of confidence around whether it was an option open to me. I managed to secure a place on a grad programme with a global business but even then, the path to an international role was unclear. Fortunately, a superb mentor supported me – eventually becoming a sponsor who advocated for me, and I was lucky to land my first European M&A role, later working in India despite having never previously been to the region.

What can organisations do to help?

  • Be honest about impostor syndrome – recognise it exists in your workforce, talk about it as this will help your employees open up around their own internalised barriers.
  • Be clear on all the skills needed to succeed in international assignments – often those from under-represented communities have the resilience, cultural competence and emotional intelligence to succeed – whilst the focus of organisations remains on the technical skill requirements.
  • Invest in those skills in your under-represented communities – demonstrate how their existing skills align to the needs of international assignments. Inclusive coaching can be incredibly powerful in this space around building confidence.
  • Provide case studies for international assignment – demonstrating they are for all, and ensuring role models reflect the diversity you seek.
  • Consider mentoring and sponsorship programmes matching existing international assignees with aspirational assignees – or even better employees who have not yet thought it was an option through existing development programmes.
  • Ensure assignments are assessed for any barriers to intersectional under-represented talent groups – this entails providers providing inclusion assessments to inform both physical and psychological safety and share it honestly.
  • More than anything, share the full picture – international assignments are challenging but life-changing, they are fun, horizon-expanding and they build skills in a way it is difficult to replicate elsewhere – shout about it!

About the Author:

Jenny Hinde– Executive Director

Jenny has more than 25 years’ experience as a HR and Change Director, leading successful global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and known for building trusted partnerships to deliver impactful change, achieving recognition through winning a CIPD award in 2022 . With a intersectional approach Jenny is highly experienced in defining the business case, setting the strategic direction, and implementing solutions to diversity challenges within organisations covering the full employee lifecycle with specific expertise in inclusive recruitment, performance, talent and reward processes, as well as outside organisations including supply chains, communities and inclusive customer delivery. 

Jenny leads audit, inclusive leadership and strategy development work at the Clear Company with a range of clients such as Lloyd’s of London, Bentley Motors, Deliveroo and Balfour Beatty.  Jenny has successfully developed and facilitated coaching and inclusive leadership programmes in order to align leaders at all levels to a common inclusion agenda for clients including Mundipharma, Aecom and Sky.

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