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The LGBT community and expat assignments

Top tips on ensuring LGBT employees aren't left out of the global mobility equation and are fully supported to move overseas

Ruth McPhail, associate professor in the department of employment relations and human resources at Griffith University, and former HR director, has written multiple research reports on the issues affecting LGBT people while on expat assignments. She cautions companies not to underestimate the discrimination and complexities involved, and not to assume simply hiring a diversity and inclusion manager is enough.

McPhail urges HR to focus on the potential the LGBT community offers: “You will get loyalty and productivity from them if you fully support. It’s tough finding people willing to expatriate and they are often willing,” she says, adding that her research shows a motivator for some assignees is to face prejudice head-on.

LGBT professionals are “somewhat more globally mobile”, according to McPhail, because they don’t have to jump through the dual career hoops that often restrict heterosexual couples (in many countries if you bring your husband or wife they may not get a work visa, but two LGBT professionals can expatriate as individuals).

McPhail’s top tips for HR directors include:

  • Making your support visible: “Some companies might have gay pride celebrations in the US, for example, but wouldn’t have them in Africa. You’ve got to make sure you’re doing it across the board, even if it’s politically difficult.”
  • Recognising that successful integration is not necessarily about what is legal; more important are social attitudes.
  • Having the same policies for your LGBT employees as for heterosexual ones.
  • Brainstorming with assignees and their partners how you would prepare for a quick, unexpected exit from the country.
  • Trying, where possible, to enable your LGBT worker to be ‘out’ – evidence shows that people who bring “their whole selves” to work are more productive.
  • Facilitating LGBT networks and helping cultivate allies internally (heterosexual staff who will campaign on behalf of the community).