Promoting LGBTQ+ Inclusion in International Assignments Addressing Challenges and Fostering Support

International assignments have been found to provide numerous benefits for employees, such as improved problem-solving skills, increased creativity, higher chances of promotion, and greater entrepreneurial opportunities, as highlighted by the Harvard Business Review. However, it is important to recognize that LGBTQ+ individuals can face a unique set of challenges when working abroad. As we commemorate LGBTQ+ Pride Month in June, the significance of diversity and inclusivity within the workplace has grown exponentially. Organizations are increasingly aware of the need to support employees regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. 

Global Views: Safety and Security  

Working abroad can expose LGBTQ+ employees to varying levels of danger, ranging from hostility to the risk of facing the death penalty. Shockingly, homosexuality remains illegal in 71 countries worldwide. Even in locations where same-sex relationships are legally recognized, LGBTQ+ individuals may encounter difficulties obtaining visas for themselves or their same-sex partners. Moreover, they may face discrimination in their workplace due to their sexual orientation. Often, employees accept assignments abroad with their current employer, but relocating to a different branch of the organization can mean encountering unwelcoming attitudes from colleagues. 

Understanding the challenges that LGBTQ+ employees may face during international assignments is crucial for Human Resources professionals. This understanding allows them to enhance support for assignees and increase the likelihood of successful expatriate experiences. Proactively addressing LGBTQ+ issues within global mobility programs can help organizations achieve several benefits, including improved outcomes, increased employee retention, an enhanced employer brand, and protection against potential employment disputes. 

Action Points for Employers

To effectively support LGBTQ+ employees on international assignments, employers must adopt three key action points outlined by Charity Stonewall: 

  1. Deep Understanding: Employers should be well-versed in the factors that influence the experiences of LGBTQ+ employees during expatriate assignments. 
  1. Knowledge of Legal and Non-Legal Country Information: Staying up-to-date with LGBTQ-related legal and non-legal information specific to each country is essential. 
  1. Risk Assessments and Management: Organizations should conduct LGBTQ-specific risk assessments to understand and address the potential issues that may affect LGBTQ+ employees during their assignments. 

Implementing LGBTQ-Inclusive Policies

All international organizations must have a global policy that explicitly prohibits sex discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity. These policies ensure that employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace, regardless of their location. Policies related to global mobility should also specify that an employee’s career will not suffer if they decline an international assignment due to their sexual orientation. Instead, alternative career development opportunities should be offered. 

Providing Flexible Support  

Global mobility staff and employees should engage in open conversations at all stages of the assignment to ensure that appropriate support is provided. Personnel responsible for relocation should be prepared to address any LGBTQ-related questions. These conversations should foster honesty and transparency, equipping employees with the knowledge to navigate their assignments successfully. 

Training and Pre-Departure Support 

Training global mobility professionals on LGBTQ+ guidelines and policies is crucial to bring these policies to life. This training should focus on creating inclusive working environments where LGBTQ+ individuals feel comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation. Line managers and mobility staff should be equipped to handle open conversations about personal circumstances that may impact an employee’s decision. 

Pre-departure support is equally important. Employees preparing for international assignments should receive comprehensive briefings on LGBTQ+ laws, non-legal information, crime rates concerning LGBTQ+ individuals, and available LGBTQ+ networking events. This preparation will help them understand what to expect and enable them to make better-informed decisions for their relocation. 

Establishing Support Networks 

In addition to addressing practical concerns such as immigration, parental rights, spouse visas, and healthcare, organizations can create LGBTQ+ network groups to combat isolation, minimize stress, and facilitate smoother transitions for LGBTQ+ employees. 

Dealing with Problems and Ensuring Safety 

Even with the best possible support, problems may still arise during international assignments. Employees should have access to ongoing support whenever needed. Regular meetings with the responsible person for their assignment can serve as a valuable support mechanism. 

Stonewall recommends several action points for supporting assignees during their assignments, including training in-country line managers on LGBTQ+ issues, establishing an LGBTQ+ employee network for continuous accessibility, providing alternative advice channels outside of the line manager, and having a rapid emergency return process in place for LGBTQ+ employees. 

Harnessing LGBTQ+ Support for Organizational Success 

When developing mobility programs, organizations must consider the support needed specifically for LGBTQ+ employees. This approach improves employee satisfaction, retention, and equal development opportunities for all. By doing so, organizations can cultivate a motivated and skilled talent pool, foster the growth of successful global businesses, and become an attractive recruiting tool. 

LGBTQ+ Attitudes in the UK 

Although progress has been made, there is still work to be done to improve the lives of the LGBTQ+ community in the UK. The government’s national LGBTQ+ 2019 survey revealed concerning findings despite a generally positive perception of the UK’s LGBTQ+ rights record: 

  • LGBTQ+ individuals report lower life satisfaction compared to the general population, with an average rating of 6.5 out of 10. 
  • Transgender respondents had particularly low satisfaction scores, averaging around 5.4 out of 10. 
  • Over two-thirds of LGBTQ+ respondents admitted to avoiding holding hands with a same-sex partner due to fear of a negative reaction. 
  • At least 40% of respondents experienced incidents of harassment or violence in the past year due to their LGBTQ+ status, but the majority of serious incidents went unreported. 
  • A small percentage (2%) underwent conversion or reparative therapy, and an additional 5% were offered such treatment. 
  • Approximately 24% of respondents sought mental health services within the previous 12 months. 

However, attitudes toward LGBTQ+ rights in the UK are generally improving, and the country is recognized as a leader in LGBTQ+ rights in Europe. 

Supporting LGBTQ+ employees in international assignments is crucial for promoting inclusion and equality. By understanding and addressing the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals abroad, organizations can provide the necessary support, increase employee satisfaction and retention, enhance their employer brand, and contribute to the growth of successful global businesses. As we commemorate LGBTQ+ Pride Month, let us reaffirm our commitment to creating an inclusive environment that respects and values the diversity of all employees. 


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