Assisting the Globally Mobile LGBT Professional 06.14.2016 | Laura Levenson

In today’s highly competitive work environment, employers are seeking ways to effectively expand their talent pool, and are also recognizing that the global mobility of talent is a key driver of growth.

While employers seek to leverage the collective knowledge and experience of their employees, diversity of the globally mobile workforce has not kept pace with the profile of the general workforce. Specifically, when it comes to embracing a more diverse workforce, LGBT employees face significant barriers to global mobility opportunities.

Forward-thinking companies are incorporating Diversity and Inclusiveness initiatives into their global mobility programs wherever possible, and where restricted by law, are both working around and creating solutions that help LGBT employees seek out and accept international assignments as part of their career journey. Through the efforts of strong leaders, these companies are implementing inclusive solutions to foster the success of all international assignees, by considering the individual support needed by all candidates. Above and beyond the challenges to promoting a more inclusive corporate culture, the current global regulatory environment is dynamic and increasingly complex.

Research suggests that Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) leaders, HR practitioners, not to mention LGBT employees, can easily become overwhelmed by the complexity of the legal and regulatory landscape across scores of jurisdictions. In addition, they must navigate and manage different cultural and corporate environments across all the geographies any given company operates in or is planning on expanding into. And, depending on the country, regulations span so many areas of an employee’s life—from recognition of same sex partnerships or marriage to definition of dependent children, adoption to protection from workplace harassment, discrimination protections, and parity of benefits. These concerns are compounded when employee development includes global assignment as a desired career trajectory.

Unfortunately, there are more than 76 countries around the world that consider homosexuality a crime and these locations can present considerable risks for LGBT candidates. Yet, in most organizations, senior leadership positions require international experience and as such all employees should have an equal opportunity to be considered for these growth assignments regardless of their sexual orientation. Through our consulting practice we’ve seen increased efforts to align mobility with D&I initiatives and have interviewed many global mobility professionals to learn how best to support the recruitment, deployment and retention of LGBT employers and what are they doing to overcome the barriers to accepting international assignments.

One progressive Canadian financial institution has an Inclusion Council, led by its Chief Human Resources Officer and made up of a number of executives. This council has crafted a framework for inclusion embedded in policies, practices and guidelines for leaders as well as multiple compliance, ethics, leadership and development courses. The company also has an active and successful employee resource group for Pride/LGBT, and with chapters across Canada and a large chapter in Mexico, it’s one of the company’s most successful employee resource groups.

This employer also works with multiple external partners such as Pride at Work to provide additional support and education for employees. Another multi-national company handles all employees going on international assignments consistently, regardless of sexual orientation. The company provides full support including making special arrangements if necessary in/for locations for employees who identify themselves as LGBT and where being so is not supported by culture or law.

This company’s Chief Diversity and Inclusiveness Officer is responsible for ensuring the company’s leaders’ awareness of the laws and company policies governing recruitment, hiring and retention of all employees, regardless of gender and orientation. For example, if they identify an employee in a same sex relationship as a candidate for an international assignment, they would treat them no differently than any other employee. They base their treatment of employees on home country laws, and if their employees are assigned to locations where the laws are not accepting of LGBT, they would make every effort to provide accommodation for their needs through other available means.

Both companies fundamentally agree that same-sex couples have the same relocation considerations as any other couples: the partner’s job, real estate, children, schools, cost of living, cultural issues, distance from family and friends and more. But there are differences, too. The current, unsettled state of same-sex marriage and civil union laws around the world can present significant challenges.

Many companies have recognized this and make no policy distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex couples in terms of relocation benefits, particularly for couples who have entered into a legal marriage or civil union. But some companies also extend consideration, where legally permissible, to unmarried domestic partners of employees, regardless of sexual orientation. Partner career assistance can address at least some of these concerns. This support makes the relocation more likely to happen and more likely to succeed.

Increasingly, companies have concluded that the cost of extending these benefits is small relative to the competitive advantage the company receives in sourcing and retaining talent.

When it comes to regulatory matters—namely immigration for accompanying same sex spouses and partners—assignment arrangements get more complicated, but the challenges are not insurmountable. Companies that wish to send an employee who is part of a same-sex relationship abroad need to raise this issue with their global immigration partners as part of the pre-assignment due diligence process.

Employees in this situation should also do thorough research and possibly seek legal and immigration advice as part of the pre-decision process. In some cases, when same sex marriage is not recognized by a country, a “work-around” is found to allow the partner to accompany the principal assignee. In all likelihood, the partner’s visa status does not permit him or her to work or receive benefits in that scenario.

Recently, Fragomen advised that rules in each country must be thoroughly researched so that the employees and their partners can make an informed decision when exploring work, educational and
volunteer opportunities. There are many “work around” scenarios not addressed by the immigration laws in a large number of jurisdictions where same sex marriages are not recognized or illegal, such as:

  • Finding a sponsoring employer
  • Short term visits on a tourist visa
  • Enrollment in a college program to qualify for a student visa
  • Performing volunteer work
  • Self employment on an entrepreneurial visa

Diversity and Inclusiveness experts emphasize that all potential assignees should learn about the location and be informed of the potential challenges they may face in certain geographies. Therefore cross cultural education is as important as understanding the legal landscape. The DI experts consulted for this article offered best practices to corporations seeking to overcome the socio-cultural barriers discussed:

  • Create an environment and culture in which global mobility is encouraged with the understanding that a flexible approach must apply to more challenging locations. An employee should be able to turn down an opportunity without damaging his or her career or there should be provisions for more flexible home-leave when a partner remains home because he or she cannot obtain a visa.
  • Question assumptions about potential candidates and use self-identification to encourage all candidates to consider global assignments.
  • Research and understand legal limitations and cultures where it might be not be safe or legal. A good source of data is GlobeSmart, a free country guide to SHRM members.
  • Consider providing benefits to legally recognized “partners” and establishing guidelines for partners who are not legally recognized; most companies define eligibility for benefits to dependents or members of the same “household.”
  • Form global networks to share news, information and best practices. LGBT networks also boost visibility and strength, solidarity and cohesiveness of the global community. Networks can help LGBT personnel who feel isolated connect with peers, role models and allies.

In all cases, best practices should include starting a communication campaign (on your intranet or through management briefings) to profile success stories and show how global assignments supported business goals and personal development opportunities.

In conclusion, a clearly defined, focused diversity strategy that incorporates global mobility in its talent management and career development framework can help an organization attract top talent and retain high-potential employees in a wide variety of markets globally, and improve its bottom line.

Organizations with forward thinking, inclusive approaches to expanding their talent pool by attracting women and LGBT as candidates for global assignments are well positioned to develop the strongest workforces, which can lead to unforeseen growth and increased employee engagement.

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Written by Laura Levenson


Laura Levenson is a Practice Leader in Weichert Workforce Mobility’s Advisory Services group. She has worked in management capacities for workforce mobility and Big Four firms, and is well-versed in bringing clarity to the most pressing global talent deployment challenges. She brings over 25 years of experience to her role and is a frequent speaker on the mobility conference circuit.

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