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How HR can improve LGBT+ employees' access to international assignments

?Recent research by Open for Business found that numerous companies were not providing LGBT+ employees with enough knowledge and resources on the local laws and culture for international assignments.

These findings aren’t surprising. Sometimes employers struggle or are unaware they need to provide this information to LGBT+ colleagues and/or for any LGBT+ dependents who are considering secondments abroad.

It’s important for companies to level the playing field and offer fair opportunities for LGBT+ colleagues - however their safety needs to be carefully considered for assignments in countries with anti-LGBT+ laws and cultures.

Further reading for creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces:

Most LGBT-friendly places to work announced by Stonewall

Using correct pronouns leads to a more inclusive workplace, HR urged

HR has the opportunity to lead on trans and non-binary inclusivity

Employers who don’t understand or provide the correct safety and inclusion measures of a country could mean employees are put at risk. Companies are responsible for their employees' safety on international assignments and could face serious repercussions if their employees are placed in harm’s way. Employers need to be the first port of call for accurate information.

Providing this information for employees at the outset is very important. Ideally, HR teams should create and/or upload policies and procedures to their intranet and keep them regularly updated, so employees can review and make informed decisions about their secondment.

Stonewall has excellent guidance about how to support the safety and wellbeing of staff abroad. A diversity and inclusion consultant can also help advise on creating these policies and developing practices and support frameworks.

Companies should keep up to date with UK Government travel advice. They must also take into account the nuances – including differences of laws and cultural attitudes across the country. There can, for example, be a huge variation in attitudes between people living in cities and those in rural areas.

As part of policy and procedure, employers should also consider the following:

Not making assumptions

Companies can make the mistake of assuming the sexuality or gender of an employee and their family. It’s important that employees are informed of their rights and the rights of their family if they were to work abroad.

LGBT+ is not a homogenous community and intersectionality needs to be considered too. For example, different challenges will be faced by a Black transgender woman compared to a white cis-gendered gay man. Policies must take all these different challenges and how these could impact different individuals into account.

Providing extra support

If the host country doesn’t allow same sex partners or LGBT+ dependents, but an employee does agree to work there, employers will need to be flexible and accommodating. For example, they can offer additional leave and flights home.

An employee who is LGBT+ and/or has LGBT+ dependents should have the right to refuse international assignment work if they decide it is unsafe. Companies must make it clear that their career won’t be negatively impacted.

Employers must also have emergency support – explicitly for LGBT+ employees and families – and should communicate it is available, for example urgent flights home.

Some employees may become vulnerable and isolated in countries with anti-LGBT+ laws and/or are hosted in a country with a politically volatile situation. Local HR colleagues and leaders need to be instructed to communicate this too.

Creating and connecting employees with LGBT+ global support networks can help prevent feelings of isolation too.

Work closely with local leaders

Organisations need to work very closely with their local leaders, especially to understand the context in which their employee could be working in. Challenges can also occur when the employer’s clients are not inclusive – this can add another level of complexity in creating a safe and respectful environment.

If companies want to have an activist role in improving rights for LGBT+ employees, it’s worth consulting within an outside organisation regarding strategy and approach.

Organisations should not speak on behalf of a community without understanding the complex challenges they face. This could also endanger employees as well as disrespect the local community.

Improving opportunities for LGBT+ colleagues to work abroad is an important part in improving equality and diversity within companies. However, employers need to make sure they provide as much accurate information and protection as possible.

By Megan Cross, diversity and inclusion consultant at Brook Graham from Pinsent Masons’ Vario


February is LGBT History Month in the UK and throughout HR magazine will be providing expert perspectives on how to support LGBT+ diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.

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