Two mobility experts on diversity, equity, and inclusion discuss how to best serve LGBTQ+ employees preparing to go on assignment
Relocation can be an overwhelming time for even the most prepared assignee. Companies that don’t have support systems set up to help LGBTQ+ employees with assignments both domestic and international could be doing a huge disservice to their employees. Roberto Caballero, partner at Berry Appleman & Leiden based in Richardson, Texas, and Valencia Culbreath, global leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion for Graebel Companies Inc., a provider of global talent mobility solutions based in Denver, Colorado, shared their expertise on how to best serve LGBTQ+ employees preparing to go on assignment.
Information Is Key to Preparing for a Successful Assignment
Before a company sends their employee on an assignment, their manager must be aware of specific resources and information that will be key to making sure the assignee is safe. “The short answer is companies should incorporate educational information and resources specifically curated toward their LGBTQ+ population, within their talent mobility policies, and/or their international assignment protocols,” Caballero says.
Caballero and Culbreath agree that communication and transparency set the stage for a successful relocation. “Companies have a duty to provide information and education at the beginning stages of the relocation process, so mobile employees have a clear understanding of the situation and what it would be like to live in a specific city as a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” Culbreath says. “Companies must have a pulse on the social climate in areas they conduct business and are relocating employees and understand the laws and social norms that vary from state to state and country to country.”
Think Through Long-Term Solutions and Resources
Caballero also recommends that companies strive to offer practical support throughout the length of the assignment, not just the initial relocation. “Unfortunately, attitudes and laws can change against LGTBQ+ employees, and their families, during an assignment,” Caballero says. “So, it’s imperative that continued support, monitoring, and flexibility be part of any mobility policy supporting LGBTQ+ employees.”
Culbreath advises that companies think about solutions for bringing their employees back in emergency situations. “Companies may want to consider adding repatriation clauses to their policies so that if new laws are implemented that create a hostile environment for their mobile employees and their families, the company can prioritize employees’ safety and well-being by offering options to either move them back to their point of origin or to a more accepting location,” Culbreath says.
Make Sure Specific Concerns Are Taken Care Of
While LGBT+ is an umbrella term, it encompasses a wide and varied group of people. Using a one-size-fits-all policy won’t necessarily help employees through problems or targeted prejudice that they may encounter on assignment.
“Even though the LGBTQ+ designation is meant to be all-inclusive, the law and attitudes of a particular jurisdiction can be focused on a particular subset of that population,” Caballero says. “For example, transgender, gender nonconforming, or nonbinary employees may have laws that specifically alienate and negatively impact them, even though there may be laws that support other members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
The more specific policies companies can create means that employees will be more equipped in foreign countries.
Create a Welcoming Company Culture
Culbreath points out that before discussions about relocation can begin, companies must be fostering an inclusive environment. “In doing so, companies will better understand who it is they’re relocating and any potential concerns or sensitivities based on the destination location. Companies, and as an extension, mobility partners, can’t help or provide support if they don’t know who needs it,” Culbreath says.
If companies don’t have an inclusive environment to begin with, it makes it harder for at-risk employees to get the help they need or even communicate the problems that they are facing during a relocation.
“Setting employees up for success starts with building a culture of inclusivity and belonging within the client company,” Culbreath says. “This involves fostering an environment where individuals feel comfortable being their authentic selves, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. By proactively aligning a company’s culture with DEI principles, companies can minimize the potential for legal issues or personal trauma and do their part to support the well-being and success of their employees throughout the relocation process.”
Success Requires Two-Way Communication
Culbreath shares a recent success story from Graebel: “A mobile employee was put on a long-term assignment with her partner but faced visa challenges due to the lack of legal recognition for same-sex marriage in China. The partner was ineligible for a dependent visa and had to enter and stay in China on a student visa through Shanghai University. When the couple wished for a home visit, strict immigration regulations and the closure of borders due to COVID-19 posed obstacles for the partner, who wouldn’t be able to re-enter the country on her student visa.”
The team at Graebel spent hours doing research on immigration, cost, and travel considerations. “After careful review and consideration of our recommendations, the client decided to offer the partner a job in their China office, enabling her to obtain the necessary work and residence permits,” Culbreath says.
The couple were able to return home late last year to visit family without visa problems. Culbreath says what made this particular case successful was that the employee felt comfortable enough to share this openly so the Graebel team could be thoughtful about potential challenges for her and her partner while on assignment and come up with solutions that worked for everyone.