How can employers support LGBTQ expats on new international assignments?

Travelling on business and living and working in another culture can be an exciting, enriching experience. But for new LGBTQ expats heading off on a new assignment in a foreign culture it can be daunting. More thought and planning is required, whether it’s simply inviting a partner on a business trip or embarking on a whole new life abroad. An individual may be completely comfortable in their own culture, and in your corporate culture, but how will they fare in another, possibly less open-minded culture?

LGBTQ expats may have to deal with all kinds of issues as well as cultural differences, from the fear or prejudice of co-workers to bullying, hate crime and harassment by authorities. Here are some suggestions for how to prepare new LGBTQ expats.

  1. Issues affecting LGBTQ expats beyond those mentioned above may include exclusion from community groups, difficulty finding accommodation, issues for trans people in using public bathrooms, or trouble getting a national ID card without medical intervention. LGBTQ expats working in less accepting cultures may suffer a great deal of stress from not being able to be ‘themselves’ in their new workplace.
  2. Keep all company communication regarding international assignments inclusive. Wording or documentation regarding relocation or overseas postings should recognize diversity. Don’t define the family unit as ‘husband and wife’, for example. ‘Spouse’ or ‘partner’ is more appropriate wording. Do not make assumptions about the sexuality of an employee; they may not be out in the workplace but details of the risks of international assignments for LGBTQ people need to be made available to all employees.
  3. Always carry out risk assessments for LGBTQ expats. There are still 70 countries in the world where same-sex relationships are criminalized, for example, including the United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Malaysia and Kenya. Very few countries recognize the gender identity of trans people. LGBTQ employees may not be protected against discrimination in the workplace by the laws of many countries worldwide and while your own company may adhere to its diversity policy abroad, the offices of clients and suppliers could be a different story. Employers have a responsibility to stay informed about the law of all countries in which they operate regarding homosexuality and the rights of non-binary people.
  4. Narrow down these risk assessments to regions or states if necessary. For example, while much of the USA is very liberal-minded, LGBTQ expats posted in more conservative states may struggle to gain acceptance. In any country, life in more traditional rural areas is likely to be more challenging as an LGBTQ person. In some cultures, LGBTQ employees may face more than one form of bias, for example, if they are people of color, or have a disability.
  5. Be sensitive to the fact that some countries require a negative HIV test to grant a multiple-entry visa or work permit, among them Iran, Iraq, Russia and Jordan.
  6. Any mobility policy needs to include support for LGBTQ families, as well as individuals. For example, can a same-sex couple live safely and happily as a family, with their children, in the country concerned? Will their legal status of, say, civil partnership, be recognized? Can a non-working partner get a visa? Do your overseas posting benefits apply to families regardless of the gender of the parents? And if the posting is to a particularly hostile environment, would an arrangement whereby one partner commutes be more appropriate?
  7. Have a single, LGBTQ-trained point of contact for relocating employees, be aware some individuals may not feel comfortable sharing their status with a new manager or new team overseas. Help new assignees prepare for their new location by providing country-specific information, including clear information about the legal situation; suggestions of networking opportunities; and LGBTQ-friendly places to go as they find their feet in a new city. Have an emergency evacuation policy in place, too, should the person need to return home quickly for reasons of harassment.
  8. Provide ongoing support for LGBTQ expats in their new location. This might include one-to-one mentoring on issues facing LGBTQ people in the culture, or employee networks, and in countries where having such a network is not safe, access to support via a global employee advice network. Demonstrate diversity by getting involved in or sponsoring LGBTQ events, like the various Pride marches and festivals.
  9. Employees who are comfortable with being out in their home country may need to protect their status while on shorter business trips for reasons of safety and security. Managers need to be aware of this and to protect confidentiality to avoid accidental outing while the person is overseas. Employees themselves may need special country-specific briefings and assistance such as social media security training when visiting cultures hostile to the LGBTQ community.
  10. Bear in mind that a company that embraces diversity and offers full, global and proactive support for its LGBTQ expats, regardless of location, opens itself up to a much bigger pool of talent as people from all walks of life will regard that company as a safe, modern, inclusive place to work.

For more information we recommend ILGA who release an interactive map detailing useful information on sexual orientation laws around the world, charting where criminalization, protection and recognition laws are passed.

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About the Author

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.

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