Special feature

Fixing the gender gap in international moving

FIDI’s Communications Manager Magali Horbert examines the sizeable global pay difference between men and women, the impact it has on businesses, and what can be done to address it

The Global Gender Gap Index is a commonly recognised indicator of gender parity in the workforce. In 2022,1 the global gender gap stands at 31 per cent. From a pay gap perspective, this means that for every dollar a man earns, a woman is paid 69 cents; according to specialists, it will take the world another 132 years to reach full parity at the current rate of progress.

Of course, this global figure does not account for disparities between countries, industries, age groups or seniority levels. And it is important to underline that this number calculates the median average of income between men and women – that is, a big gap doesn’t necessarily mean that women earn much less than men in that specific category; it might just mean that there are far fewer women represented at senior management level.

Looking at the root causes of the ‘broken rung’

One observation stands out across all industries, including international moving and global mobility: at the beginning of their careers, men and women are equally represented, but this drops off massively at senior management level.

As part of the preparations for the FIDI panel session How to navigate diversity and parity in a global industry, which took place at the 2022 FIDI Conference in Cannes, we looked at CEOs and senior management representation across the FIDI membership. The proportion is representative of any corporate sector: whereas women make up more or less half of the workforce at junior levels, this proportion drops significantly at senior management level. Across all affiliated companies, 75 per cent of CEOs or managing directors are male.

Derek Duffy, President at Armstrong International and Vice President of FIDI, can relate to this drop: ‘We have more women than men employed [at Armstrong International]. Within our leadership team of 13 people, there is currently only one woman.

‘We struggle to develop female employees to be ‘leadership-ready’ before their priorities shift to being family focused or otherwise. They often don’t want the responsibilities of leadership. While we continuously make the efforts and investments to make leadership attractive for women, it remains a real challenge.’

So why does it seem that women don’t want or can’t reach senior leadership roles? According to a McKinsey study, this phenomenon that is holding back women is called the ‘broken rung’: women continue to face obstacles early on in the leadership race. For every 100 men promoted to junior manager, only 86 women are promoted. This means that, at every step up the corporate ladder, there are fewer women to promote to higher management positions – leading to male-dominated executive boards and C-suites.

This is often compounded by cultural contexts. Ebru Demirel, CEO of Asya International Movers, based in Turkey, believes that ‘the biggest obstacles for women in our country are cultural prejudices’. ‘Even though things are changing, in our industry in general, being a man is seen as being more advantageous when dealing with other men. But even in Western countries, I see mostly men in senior management positions. So this is a global issue.’

Linda Rovekamp, Global Manager Household Moves at De Haan in the Netherlands, agrees: ‘In every country, there are different rules, different laws, different possibilities, but even in the “progressive” Netherlands, when my children are sick, they call me – not my husband.’

‘[Balancing motherhood and work] is possible, but it is the biggest challenge ever. You have to be super structured, have back-up plans in place, etc. I think there are a lot of women who want leadership roles, but the question we need to ask ourselves is: why are they not taking them? What do we need to do to make sure they can take those roles?’

Motherhood seems to be a defining factor, drastically affecting a woman’s access to higher-paid jobs and, therefore, her earning potential – whereas fatherhood has close to no impact on a man’s earnings. Motherhood in the workplace also seems to still carry a very strong negative image in many cultures. Natasha Tavoukjian, CEO of Orbit Moving & Storage, based in Cyprus, is a self-confessed workaholic, and recognises that the prejudices in her environment made her choose her career over a family. According to her, however, this puts an unfair stigma on women’s life decisions.

‘Women should not be punished for the choices they are making,’ she says. ‘So, if you decide that you want a career and to be an amazing mother, you shouldn’t be judged for that. Maybe if women were given more flexibility to combine work with motherhood, they would want to be in leadership positions.’

This is backed up by studies showing that having children does not make women less ambitious.2

Workplace culture is also often cited as key to women taking up leadership positions. Companies have to actively foment an inclusive and equal culture. Two elements are critical to this effort: senior management support and high employee engagement. Women’s professional experiences are shaped by their interactions with their colleagues and managers; deep cultural changes can only happen if senior management is seen as truly committed to it, and if all employees are empowered to be part of the solution.

However, Demirel is quick to point out that ‘nowadays, every company has a DE&I [diversity, equality and inclusion] policy, but does that really apply? To me, it is like a “tick the boxes” exercise for many organisations.

‘I feel that women should stand up for their own rights. Everyone is different, so it is hard to make a single standard statement; but it is very important to run a fair business for our employees first. I strongly believe that transparency will be more important in the future. So being transparent in everything we do would build more trust with our employees.’

According to Marcel Jörg, CEO of Gosselin, based in Switzerland, ‘the answer might lie in redefining how leadership roles look. We define leadership by hard work, long days, the workaholic aspect; I don’t think a leadership role needs to look like that.’ Rovekamp believes that ‘gender should not really matter, equal opportunity should be part of the culture – how a company operates and encourages growth is a major part of ensuring equal opportunities. Creating a safe and trustworthy environment and clear communication are just a few of the building blocks for doing so.’

For Juan Guillermo Díaz, President of Intramar Shipping in Colombia, ‘the most important point is the organisational culture; it’s how you understand the culture of your organisation. Are you willing – for real – to make this process from compliance to commitment? Because that is different.’

Why should we care?

Creating a more inclusive work culture and encouraging women – and minority groups – to grow into leadership positions will become an ever stronger business imperative, as DE&I-related legislation and compliance requirements increase. According to Duffy, ‘the corporate world and governments are putting pressure on society to make changes at lightning speed’.

Simone Percy, General Manager at Oman Beverly Smyth, in Ireland, emphasises how difficult this is, especially for smaller companies. ‘The more constraints you put on a business (in terms of compliance) the less agile it becomes in terms of its capacities. We’re constantly striking a balancing act.’

Having worked in the United Arab Emirates for most of her career, she points out that the international moving and global mobility industry faces the added complication of working on a global scale. ‘We have to deal with cultures where some countries are at a different place (for many reasons); many cultures are not in a position to offer, for example, paid parental leave for men and women, for practical reasons.’ The drive to more compliance requirements should leave a margin for nuance and cultural differences.

Duffy believes that, at some point, there will be organic change, because the education system and a more acute awareness will drive the necessary shift in mindsets and ways of running businesses over time. ‘There’s an incredible pressure on us to make change happen tomorrow – my personal opinion is that change is coming, but give it time.’

The pressure, however, is not only coming from legislation. The young generation entering the workforce has a very different outlook and won’t tolerate the status quo. Guillermo Díaz believes it’s a generational gap: ‘The young generation is not afraid of speaking about it,’ he says. Rovekamp agrees: ‘There are a lot of people, generations before us, who have fought for our rights, who have created awareness; but I don’t think it’s in our DNA yet. However, the younger generation sees things differently. I believe we are in a transitional period, it’s a process. Twenty years from now this might not even be a subject any more.’

This point was driven home by one of the youngest members of the audience of the panel in Cannes. Clara Duffy, 15 – Derek Duffy’s daughter – took a strong stance when she pointed out that ‘at school we are learning about how women have advanced their rights in the workforce; it’s built into our curriculum’. ‘I believe it is important for women to hold leadership positions in companies, as they act as role models for younger generations rising up the career ladder. That’s why I feel there is this gap at the moment, with mainly men holding leadership positions, because there are so few women to act as role models in the first place.’

How do we fix the ladder?

Representation matters. As Guillermo Díaz says, ‘diversity means representation; having space in the community where you belong’. Metrics and numbers might be a good way to visualise problematic solutions; the topic of mandatory quotas, however, draws very reserved reactions.

‘I’m not a quota fan,’ says Percy. ‘I believe in meritocracy.’ This danger of tokenism (‘the practice of doing something, such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group, only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly’, according to Merriam Webster dictionary) was also touched upon by Steve Jordan, editor of The Mover magazine during the Cannes panel.

‘In our efforts to redress the imbalance, how do we ensure that we still promote on merit? I don’t think anybody would want to support tokenism,’ he said.

So, if forcing change through numbers isn’t a solution, how do we drive parity in our industry? For Rovekamp, ‘it all boils down to communication; making it possible to talk about difficult topics, bringing people together’. ‘I make sure my teams discuss growth and development for men and women. We ask what their goals are, what challenges they are facing, and how we can help them overcome these challenges to rise further. I stimulate my team to think about their future and how they can bring out the best in others.’

Education and creating awareness is also key – especially for senior management, emphasises Percy. ‘At Oman Beverly Smyth, we have decided to enrol our entire management team in the Irish Centre of Diversity’s DE&I qualification course. The idea is to really make us look at any unconscious biases we might have, how to apply positive role modelling, etc., and then carry it through the entire organisation.’

Mentorship programmes are a great way to give the younger generation the tools and know-how to grow into leadership positions, and to retain your most promising staff members. To leverage the broad expertise within the FIDI community and share some valuable international expertise, the FIDI 39 Club is working on a FIDI-wide mentorship programme, which will be rolled out at the beginning of 2023.

In any process towards parity and diversity, transparency is key. As with any other compliance-related topics, companies should make sure they measure, track and communicate their progress, celebrate effort and outcomes, and identify where they still have work to do.

Creating the space for global dialogue

At an industry level, the very global and diverse scope of the international moving and relocation industry makes finding common ground very complicated. Ben Ivory, Senior Vice President at Graebel Companies, believes that ‘it is hard to get consensus on definitions; it’s going to mean different things to different people in different cultures’. ‘We need dialogues to overcome these differences.’

This is where the power of global networks such as FIDI really come into play. Leveraging the diversity of our community allows for a very fruitful exchange of ideas and best practices, building on successful examples of trailblazers.

But this is only possible if those trailblazers, the leaders in our industry (be they male or female), come forward to challenge the status quo and share their stories. Behind every strong leader in our industry are stories of adversity, but also of success and support. We need to give voice to these stories, to help the future generation of women up the leadership ladder. 

  1. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022
  2. BCG article:

Focus areas for tackling the gender gap


  • Blinded previous salaries   
    Fixed pay ranges by position
  • Fixed negotiation parameters
  • Bonuses calculated using hard metrics (and with transparency)


  • Blind screening of candidates
  • A balance of genders on the shortlists for open positions
  • Diverse interview panels
  • Review of recruitment processes to remove unconscious bias


  • Robust, flexible working policies
  • Networking
  • Interventions that target ‘moments of truth’ (such as returning from family leave)
  • Participation of men in diversity efforts


  • Sponsorship programmes
  • Professional development and executive coaching
  • Visible role models


  • Technical training
  • Stretch assignments in key areas
  • Balanced shortlists of candidates
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