While tens of thousands of people arrive in Australia to live and work every year it seems that Australian women in particular are not so keen to move abroad.

Indeed, the workplace gender gap is at its widest among the expat community with only one in four Australian females currently working overseas, according to a research project between PwC Australia and Melbourne University’s Centre for Ethical Leadership.

It found that seven out of 10 female employees want to work outside their home country yet only one in four expats are female and nearly half of females on assignment are single, whereas 70% of male assignees are married.

Nearly half of the women surveyed worry over repatriation and the impact on their career. Over half of overseas roles are filled through employees initiating the opportunity or using their networks and informal communication.

Whilst reasons for accepting an international assignment are very similar for men and women, the reasons for declining such an opportunity are very different. Some 28% of surveyed females cited a lack of role models as a reason for declining an assignment.

‘Managers in both home and host countries appear to expect a lack of availability, suitability and willingness from women to take international assignments. These assumptions may result in women being overlooked before the selection process has even begun,’ said PwC people business partner Jonathan Dunlea.

‘One bias hotspot is the assumption from employers that females do not want to work overseas because of family commitments. But women want to work overseas just as much as men and we need to challenge these assumptions that kill the opportunity at the first hurdle,’ he explained.

He believes that organisations must have an open, objective and fair approach to identifying candidates to ensure everyone gets access to opportunities overseas. He pointed out that human resources leaders frequently told researchers that they ‘just know’ who is the right candidate and you must be ‘in the know’. ‘This attitude tends to leave some women at a disadvantage as they are less likely to have these informal relationships,’ he said.

The report focused on scenarios at Telstra and ANZ as positive case studies of how to address this gender bias and according to Dunlea the easiest way to begin solving this problem is to offer postings to females at the earliest stage of their career as possible.

Businesses also need to work with women to find out their ideal location as the research showed a preference for a more developed country with a similar culture was a more influential decider than the duration of the posting.

‘And as over two thirds of female candidates have a working partner compared with just over half of males, it is important to try and help that partner find a job as well,’ added Dunlea.