Mobility and gender matter in speed of promotion and development of career capital

Guest post by Olga Ryazanova about her AMLE article on mobility, gender and promotion

[Guest post by CYGNA member Olga Ryazanova. In this post Olga talks about her recently accepted AMLE paper on a topic close to my heart: the role of mobility and gender in promotion.]

A widespread opinion in academia is that it is necessary for researchers to work abroad for some time to advance their careers. However, our new study published in the Academy of Management Learning and Education journal suggests that the relationship between international mobility and academic career outcomes is less straightforward (Ryazanova & McNamara, in press).

In our exploration of mobility’s link to research performance and academic promotion, we studied careers of 376 tenured faculty members in 20 prominent European business schools located in 10 countries. What we found was a bit puzzling: internationally mobile academics were promoted later than their non-mobile peers, even though international mobility led to higher number of journal publications and higher citation counts.

Different types of international mobility are not universally associated with higher volume and impact: the timing matters! Those who moved internationally for their first post-PhD position, achieved lower publication outcomes throughout their careers. International mobility worked best when pursued between the second and the seventh year post-PhD.

Our study also highlighted multiple ways in which female academics are disadvantaged in their careers. Female faculty were significantly less likely to move internationally, with resulting detrimental effect on publication outcomes. It also took female faculty longer to be promoted to an equivalent of a tenured rank (senior lecturer or associate professor) and to full professorship.

This is paradoxical. Limited international mobility ought to increase speed of promotion, yet for female faculty it does not. Female academics produce work that is equally impactful to that of their male peers and have more ‘bounded’ careers (which is likely to mean that they contribute more service to their institutions relative to their more mobile peers). Yet they seem to experience disadvantages that overshadow these benefits and prevent them from being promoted.

Two key lessons from this study

First, doctoral students need career guidance to make informed choices about their first post-PhD jobs. In some cases, job security and attractive salary might come at a cost of lower research performance throughout one’s academic career. This is not necessarily bad – for some academics, especially those from economically poor backgrounds, financial security is more important than extra publications. However, in the academic world where research performance becomes increasingly important for keeping a job, graduates need to ensure that they make a correct choice between short-term and long-term job security.

Second, as current or future policy makers in our academic departments, we have the responsibility to ensure that faculty has equitable access to international mobility and promotion opportunities. While a lot has been said about patching up leaky promotion pipelines (e.g., Bagues, Sylos-Labini & Zinovyyeva, 2017), the policies to promote international mobility among women and people with significant caring responsibilities are less developed. When we hire academics from abroad, we have to put in place additional support for family relocation, which help spouses find employment in our domestic labour market. According to the literature (Oliver, 2012; Richardson & Zikic, 2007), the stress due to inability of a spouse to find employment after relocation is one of the main reasons why academics – and in particular female academics - decide against international mobility.

In academic work, as in few others, the boundaries between professional and personal life are blurred. While our employers (and science in general) benefit from us squeezing a bit of work into our family time over a weekend*, the same employers need to realize that family problems are particularly detrimental for academic work which requires a fair amount of undisturbed headspace. Whatever could be done to reduce the adjustment costs of international mobility, should be done, so that the value of this mobility for the employer and the faculty could be realized.

 * I feel strongly that this practice should be discouraged as it might well be a direct way to professional burnout, and recommend to the readers a wonderful small book The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber. A review of this book by Oliver Laasch can be found here


  • Bagues, M. Sylos-Labini, M. & Zinovyeva. N. 2017. Does the gender composition of scientific committees matter? American Economic Review, 107: 1207-38.
  • Oliver, E.A. 2012. Living flexibly? How Europe's science researchers manage mobility, fixed-term employment and life outside work. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 23: 3856-3871.
  • Richardson, J., & Zikic, J. 2007. The darker side of international academic career. Career Development International, 12: 164-186.
  • Ryazanova, O. and Mc Namara, P. (in press) Choices and consequences: Impact of mobility on research-career capital and promotion in business schools. Academy of Management Learning and Education.

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