Inclusivity abroad — how can Global Mobility professionals better support LBGTQ+ assignees?
The freedom to work, live and thrive in new places around the world is a huge draw for global talent. But in many countries, LGBTQ+ assignees face a clash of culture and potentially criminal sanctions.
In this edition of Reloverse, we look at the responsibilities of Global Mobility (GM) and HR specialists to ensure equity, equality and diversity—protecting workers in locations where their rights may not be recognised.
Duty of care
Pride Month was filled with fanfare and colourful celebrations. 33 countries now welcome same-sex marriages, and another 34 recognise some form of civil partnership—but over 60 countries still have laws that criminalise homosexuality. While almost half of these are in Africa, the list includes many key destinations where GM specialists send assignees—putting pressure on their duty of care to staff. The problem is made greater in some popular expat destinations by a lack of clarity and consistency on how (or if) local laws are applied in practice.
While some HR teams may hold data on sexual orientation gathered through anonymous staff surveys, collecting and processing sensitive, personal information can land them in data privacy difficulties. This is a particular problem across different jurisdictions. So, what can those in our sector do to widen participation while reducing risk?
Firstly, make sure your data is up-to-date–and reliably sourced. Rules and regulations are in a constant state of flux, and many of them apply solely to men. Whilst the overall picture is one of positive progress, in places such as Nigeria and Uganda, laws have recently been tightened. It pays to use government sources as the internet is a mine of misinformation—or to pick a Global Mobility partner with expert knowledge in this field.
Accurate, accessible information
We continually update the diversity and inclusion sections of our popular Destination Services Guides, including the legal status of LBGTQ+ assignees in every country popular with expats. But of course, the law is often at odds with local attitudes—where staff may be protected but not openly accepted. This can create a sense of isolation and alienation, and is a common cause of failed assignments, where the social norms of a host country are more lifestyle than legislation.
It’s also important to remember that countries vary within country. Larger metropolitan centres tend to be more liberal than the provincial places many international assignees are sent to. So, as well as making topline data available at the start of every assignment application process, it’s important to signpost candidates toward any nuances of the areas you and they will operate in. Our guides cover a wide range of topics, including accessibility, transport and gender equality—as well as LBTQ+ rights and responsibilities. They are complemented by our expert teams on the ground offering support and guidance on what to expect in the new host country—for individuals and couples, both heterosexual ones and same-sex relationships. Providing everything up front is the best insurance against encountering problems at the visa and immigration stages: refusal of a spousal visa is commonplace in destination countries where same-sex marriage is illegal.
Why, not what
With a lack of accurate LGBTQ+ employee data, it’s difficult to quantify how many people are affected, disadvantaged or placed at risk in international organisations. But it’s useful to remember why taking action is essential, above simply what GM and HR specialists are doing. Corporations invest a lot in maintaining and improving their reputations. The credibility of their global values can be undermined if they’re applied differently abroad. Better enabling LBGTQ+ employees also helps retain and develop the broadest high-performance talent pool, ensuring the best person is picked for every assignment. Finally, from a compliance perspective, workplace discrimination arising from a lack of inclusion is unlawful, creating risk.
Global Mobility professionals can take several steps to better support LGBTQ+ assignees, including training and education around sensitivities and legal frameworks in different countries. Establishing employee resource groups can also provide a safe and supportive space for LGBTQ+ assignees to connect and access resources. It’s equally important to provide support for partners and family members, recognising their wellbeing contributes to the success of an assignment. Comprehensive pre-assignment support, including information on LGBTQ+ rights, local attitudes, and resources in the host country, can help assignees make informed decisions and prepare for potential challenges. Collaboration with local LGBTQ+ organisations and advocacy groups is also crucial, together with regular policy review to ensure they’re inclusive and provide adequate support.
Collecting voluntary and anonymous data on sexual orientation and gender identity helps understand the needs and experiences of LGBTQ+ assignees. Using inclusive language in communication materials creates a welcoming environment, with continuous evaluation of initiatives, and seeking feedback from stakeholders for ongoing improvement. Finally, fostering industry collaboration enables the sharing of best practices and resources, ultimately creating more inclusive work environments worldwide. These actions demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion—and help ensure the wellbeing and success of LGBTQ+ assignees while mitigating risks and maintaining legal compliance.
Karen Maher, Santa Fe’s Group Support Manager, says “It’s a sad fact that around 46% of LGBTQ+ people are closeted at work across the globe. So, when faced with an opportunity to relocate not only themselves but potentially a spouse and family, it can take a huge amount of honesty to make things work. Our consultants are trained and use inclusive language to enable assignees to feel comfortable and confident, addressing any concerns to ensure their relocation is a successful long-term relationship”.
Pride 2023 was a 30-day celebration of inclusivity in more cities than ever before—but for the Global Mobility community, there are another 11 months a year where LGBTQ+ staff need support and opportunity to work worldwide, creating personal opportunity and adding corporate value.
If you’re looking for an expert partner that understands how to ensure workforce inclusivity on the world stage, we would love to support you and your teams. Simply drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you.