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Challenges facing relocating LGBT+ employees

by Marion Wotton
in Relocation, LGBT, Global Mobility, Family Friendly Companies
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Source: Expat Focus
July 8, 2019

This article was originally commissioned by Expat Focus from Parental Choice, and was published online on July 8, 2019.

Two men discussing difficult issues with emotion

Within expat social circles questions are always being asked. Some that give pause are those along the lines “which countries would you recommend for an LGBT+ expat?”, or “my friend has been offered a dream job in country X, but they are LGBT+ … do you think that they should go for the posting?” That these questions are being asked on social media and within expat forums – either directly or on behalf of friends who wish to remain anonymous – strongly suggests that this discussion needs to occur more openly in the mainstream business media.

There are many challenges, of varying size and severity, that young LGBT+ people face when they are planning, or in the midst of an expat assignment. All of these challenges all relate to ‘information’, ‘awareness’, and ‘support’ – or lack of them – both on the part of the LGBT+ individual and their employer.

On the information front, the location of the relocation becomes especially important for LGBT+ employees when we consider there are currently 69 countries that have laws criminalising same-sex relations between consenting adults, with at least six additional countries having laws that discriminate against non-gender conforming people (source – Human Rights Watch).

However simply avoiding these countries is not a viable solution. Even in more liberal, LGBT+ friendly societies people are not always comfortable being open about their sexuality or lifestyle in all facets of their lives. There is a distinct difference between countries where anti-LGBT+ discrimination is illegal or same-sex marriage is recognised, and societies where LGBT+ communities are accepted and welcomed. This is an incredibly important nuance that organisations must be aware of – perhaps homosexuality is not criminalised in China or India any more, but there are no prominent LGBT+ communities or organisations in these countries (yet) and in India for example, a gay couple visiting just as tourists can still be seen as something of a ‘curiosity’. 

Interracial couple holding hands

Therefore, a person may be open within their family and social circles but have never had the same level of disclosure with their line manager or HR representative for any one of many reasons.

In many situations this decision is both personal and entirely appropriate. However, if an LGBT+ employee is considering, or being considered, for a relocation assignment then it should be within their employer’s moral and ethical duty of care to ensure that the proposed relocation will not put the employee in a dangerous or disadvantaged situation. 

This is another challenge – is an organisation always aware of the true personal circumstances of a candidate for relocation, or is the system operating on an unconscious bias to the ‘expat stereotype’? While traditionally expat employees were white, Western men (often with wife and children in tow), this cannot be the default assumption.  For example, even if the relocating employee is a straight, white man taking their wife and children on assignment, it must be seen as a possibility that at least one family member may identify as LGBT+. The stereotype is also being challenged as more openly LGBT+ people attain senior management positions and are increasingly high-profile relocation targets.

It is therefore essential that diversity and inclusion programmes touch on all aspects of organisational culture, and for organisations to be willing to challenge their own assumptions.

Child's rainbow painted hands showing community support

A touchpoint here is ‘invisible discrimination’ that LGBT+ employees may face, and that organisations must be aware of. An oft-cited example of this sort of discrimination is where legally married same-sex couples may not be able to access spousal visas for the destination country. Other variants on this are only one legal parent of a couples’ children being recognised as the children’s legal guardian; a same-sex spouse not being recognised as next-of-kin by medical authorities; or the inability of a couple to access an employer’s full range of spousal benefits.

Support for all – but especially LGBT+ – employees and their families is a crucial factor in the success of a relocation assignment.

Any organisation that is truly inclusive should have a full briefing of any and all sensitive topics for relocation candidates. This should include (but not be limited to) LGBT+, religion, any particular cultural requirements, and any specific gender-based laws or customs. The sorts of information made available for all employees and their families should also include family planning, paediatric monitoring (annual health checks and full vaccination schedules for children) and how to access sexual health clinics.

Risk assessments should be conducted for all relocation destinations. These assessments should encompass the personal, physical and psychological safety of employees. When considering the psychological risks to LGBT+ employees, isolation and loneliness are key concerns. Are there active and visible LGBT+ organisations in the destination city or country? If none, then this should be a red flag to the organisation that additional support for an LGBT+ employee’s well-being may be required.

Two women smiling and talking in the street

Finally, it must be made clear to LGBT+ employees that relocation discussions – whether for short-term secondments or for longer-term postings – are consultative between themselves, their line manager and the organisation. The final decision on whether to accept the relocation assignment must rest with the LGBT+ employee, especially if it is to a country that is legally or socially hostile to LGBT+ people. It is important that declining a posting will not be detrimental to career progression.

What other initiatives can organisations adopt to facilitate LGBT+ employees accepting relocation assignments?

  • Ensure a culture of diversity and inclusion where the organisation acts as an advocate and safe space for all employees
  • Ask returned secondees or overseas-posted employees to provide a briefing on their assignment location – good neighbourhoods, community groups, and what the location is actually like.
  • Be conscious of all communications that could divulge potentially compromising information with regards to LGBT+ employees who may not be able to live openly in their location.
  • Be flexible as to an employee’s domestic arrangements – if the location is less-than-friendly towards LGBT+ people and the employee’s partner cannot join them, consider allowing the employee to have flights home, rather than fly the partner out to join them.
  • Explore alternatives to a short- or long-term relocation assignment if the location precludes safely living as an LGBT+ single/ couple/ family – can the role be done remotely with frequent business trips and video calls?

Employee relocations are costly and complicated procedures. Specialist relocation service providers like Parental Choice can help support employees and their families emotionally, psychologically and practically through the process.

For advice on creating an LGBT+ friendly relocation process, for help developing or improving your company’s Diversity & Inclusion and working carer support programmes contact Parental Choice today, or email us directly.

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