In more than half the world LGBT+ people are not protected from discrimination by workplace laws. 70 countries still criminalise homosexuality – 10 with the death penalty – while only 28 recognise same-sex marriage. If you work for a multinational corporation and are given the opportunity for an overseas assignment or relocation these are unfortunately some of the considerations you will have to have if you are LGBT+. Will this new country be safe for me? Will my partner be able to obtain a spousal visa? Will I be protected from discrimination? Will I be lonely or ostracised because of my LGBT+ identity?
Some of the most common regions large companies send their employees to are less than favourable to LGBT+ people. In Hong Kong 75 percent of gay people are closeted at work, in Singapore it’s 72 percent, in Russia that number jumps to 80 percent.
International assignments are only becoming more common in the corporate world. They have increased by more than 25 percent since the year 2000 and are expected to increase to 50 percent by next year. It is now commonplace that as part of your career you will be sent overseas. Moving between countries with vastly different legal and social systems is part of our increasingly globalised world. It can promote fantastic new business and personal opportunities, and LGBT+ people should not be left behind.
The solution is twofold: multinational companies need to have an increased sensitivity when relocating LGBT+ employees, and LGBT+ employees need to be able to ensure their safety and set up protections for themselves.
Perhaps where this most comes into play is if you are relocating with your same-sex partner. Many countries in the world simply will not grant your spouse a visa, or if they do they will severely restrict your spouse’s access to amenities like healthcare or their own right to work in this new country.
“I knew my wife would never get a spousal visa in Indonesia; my experience had prepared me for that,” said one expatriate woman. “So instead I wanted to be guaranteed two things: firstly that my wife could come and stay at least 90 days at a time with multiple entry, and second that if there was a medical evacuation or civil strife situation that we would be evacuated as a family. These two matters were more important to me than what type of visa we were allocated.”
This is something you need to discuss with your organisation before moving, weighing the positives and negatives and figuring it out with your partner if this is the right thing for you to do.
“I knew my wife would never get a spousal visa in Indonesia; my experience had prepared me for that,”
Even if you are relocating without a partner there are other considerations to be had as well. In some countries, it is forbidden to even talk about LGBT-issues, freedom of expression and assembly are also restricted. Many expatriate LGBT+ professionals can find themselves lonely, or without companionship.
Just as you should consider these issues, so should your employers.
“The biggest challenge for HR managers is understanding that a country’s social climate or ‘comfort factor’ towards LGBT people is often more important than the local laws,” points out Ruth McPhail, professor of human resource management at Griffith University in Australia.
Understanding another country’s legal system is one thing, but understanding their social mores is something else entirely. LGBT+ people may be legally accepted, but socially frowned upon.
“With our global clients, we recognise the challenges our LGBT people can face travelling and working overseas,” explains Anne Hurstfrom our partner organisation PwC. “So, we created a microsite providing the information and resources to help them prepare for travel overseas so that it is a safe and rewarding experience.
“The site provides an overview of sexual orientation laws around the world, connects to our online cultural training tool and to external sources of guidance for LGBT travellers, with specific country and travel policy and immigration guidance and helps people make local connections by providing details of GLEE (Gay Lesbian and Everyone Else) groups around our global network. Although it was developed for UK staff it can be accessed globally.
“The PwC Security Operations Centre provides support to all our PwC people travelling overseas. Information on specific locations that is given to all travellers now includes LGBT relevant information. They send out alerts in the case of security emergencies, checking staff are safe and providing assistance when needed. The Centre provides dedicated reassurance to LGBT travellers if they have any concerns travelling to a less permissive destination, which ranges from a regular check-in facility, a 24/7 contact number for just in case, or an app to trigger an SOS alert.”
"Understanding another country’s legal system is one thing, but understanding their social mores is something else entirely."
Stonewall has also put out an excellent and thorough guide for employers sending LGBT+ people overseas. Sending this on to your HR manager before being relocated may help them understand your concerns.
The most crucial aspect for any LGBT+ employee before engaging in an overseas assignment is communication. If you are being sent to a country that worries you, be vocal about it. Talk to your HR manager, work out a solution to make you comfortable. Whether that is assurances for your spouse, regular flights home, or even being reassigned to another, safer location. Globalisation and overseas assignments are exciting opportunities that you should take advantage of when they are presented to you, but your safety and mental health should and must always be paramount.