The Harvard Business Review found that employees who have worked overseas are better problem solvers, more creative, have increased chances of promotion and are more likely to create new business or products.
Most employees see international assignments as vital to their career progression yet LGBTQ individuals can face an array of challenges when working abroad.
Over the last decade, the importance of diversity within the workplace has increased as organisations are becoming more aware of the significance of supporting employees regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Global views: Safety and Security
The situation abroad can be a dangerous one, ranging from hostility to death penalty. Homosexuality is still illegal in 74 countries and punishable by death in 13 countries.
Even in locations where homosexuality is legal, individuals can face several issues, such as:
- Difficulty obtaining visa for themselves or their same-sex partner: The most common problem for LGBTQ couples is about the visa and immigration process particularly in countries where homosexuality is illegal and same-sex marriage is not recognised.
- Exposure to discrimination in their workplace because of their sexual orientation: Usually, assignees accept an assignment abroad with the employer they work for in their home country. However, moving to another branch of the organisation might mean that the attitudes of their colleagues may not be that welcoming.
- Unrecognised parental rights
Having a deep understanding of the challenges LGBTQ employees could encounter in an international assignment can assist HR professionals to improve their support to the assignees and increase the chances of a successful expatriate assignment.
Proactively addressing LGBT issues within global mobility helps organisations to:
- Improve delivery of outcomes
- Increase employee retention
- Enhance employer brand – the organisation will be seen as an employer of choice
- Protect organisations from employment disputes
Charity Stonewall lists three action points employers must adopt:
- Have a deep understanding of the factors that can influence the experiences of LGBTQ employees on expatriates assignments.
- Be up to date with legal and non-legal country information related to LGBTQ individuals.
- Ensure risk assessments are carried out and develop appropriate risk management plans
Organisations often undertake a risk assessment before sending employees to an international assignment. It is crucial that a LGBTQ specific assessment is developed in order to understand and address the issues that may affect LGBTQ employees.
All international organisations must have a global policy that prohibits sexual discrimination on the grounds of an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity to ensure the employee’s protection from discrimination in the workplace wherever they are.
Policies related to global mobility should specify that an employee’s career won’t suffer if they decide to reject an international assignment because of their sexual orientation, and offer alternative career development opportunities instead.
Global mobility staff and employees should have conversations about all stages of the assignment and what support will be provided. In addition, anyone responsible for relocation should be prepared to answer any LGBTQ related questions. Conversations should be honest so employees can be prepared on what to expect on their assignment.
It is crucial that these policies are brought to life by training global mobility professionals on the guidelines and policy. Training must consist of how to create working environments where LGBTQ individuals can feel comfortable to disclose their sexual orientation and how line managers and mobility staff can handle open conversations about any personal circumstances that may have an impact on their decision.
Pre-departure support before the assignment
LGBT – specific country information
Employees set to go on international assignments should be briefed on the destination’s LGBTQ laws, non-legal information, crime rates against LGBTQ individuals, and LGBTQ networking events in order to help them understand what to expect and how to prepare for their relocation.
Apart from issues of immigration, unrecognised parental rights, spouse visas and health care, there are other less obvious concerns such as lack of acceptance in the wider culture.
Organisations can create a LGBTQ network group to limit isolation, minimise stress and ease the transition process.
Dealing with problems
Even when organisations offer the best possible support to employees on international assignments, problems can arise. Employees should have access to support whenever they require it. This support can be regular meetings with the person responsible for their post.
Stonewall suggest the following action points for supporting assignees during the assignment:
- Train in-country line managers on LGBTQ issues and challenges
- Develop an LGBTQ employee network where staff can access at any time
- Allow LGBTQ expatriates to access advice from someone other than their line manager
- Have a process in place where LGBTQ employees can return to their home country rapidly in case of an emergency
- Support at the end of the assignment to ensure LGBTQ staff can return to their home country safely
- Always request feedback from the LGBTQ assignee on their experience and ensure feedback is reviewed in order to improve the process.
When developing mobility programs , organisations must ensure that the right support is considered for LGBTQ employees as it can help improve satisfaction, retention and provide equal development opportunities to all employees.
This can lead to a motivated skilled talent pool that further supports the growth of successful global businesses and work in favour for the organisation as an effective recruiting tool.
LGBTQ attitudes in the UK
In the UK there is still more to do to improve the lives of the LGTBQ community and although progress has been made, the fight for equality continues. The government’s national LGBT 2018 survey results were in some cases worrying: The LGBTQ community is less satisfied with their life than the general population, more than two thirds stated that they had avoided holding hands in public with their partner from fear of a negative reaction and at least 2 in 5 respondents had experienced harassment because they were LGBTQ.
On a positive note, attitudes towards LGBTQ in the UK are improving, however, as with all societal changes, the pace of change varies across the world. Social approval of homosexual relationships have risen. The percentage of British public who approve same-sex relationships has increased rapidly over the past 30 years. The government points out that the UK is recognised as a leader on LGBTQ rights in Europe.
The controversial gay conversion therapy is to be outlawed by the government as part of the plan to improve the lives of LGBT people. Theresa May stated that nobody “should ever have to hide who they are” and produced a plan to improve the lives of LGBTQ individuals by appointing a national LGBT health advisor, increasing diversity in educational institutions, improving response to hate crimes, and tackling discrimination.