Ryan Lee Vincent, Engagement and Advisory Manager at INvolve talks through international policies, the varying D&I landscape across the globe and ways that organisations can support their LGBT+ employees in overseas countries.

As the world becomes more interconnected, businesses all over the world have expanded their reach across multiple countries and regions, and with this comes the need to place talented staff where they are most needed to maintain success and growth. However, it’s important to understand that not all countries hold the same values and policies, and in places where homosexuality is illegal, sending LGBT+ employees to these places can put them at serious risk.

With a duty and responsibility to keep employees safe, Vincent says employers must factor certain actions into their programmes before sending their staff abroad.

“When looking to prepare global mobility policies that involve LGBT+ employees, it’s important to first do a full legal review of the country. Each country is different and the legalities around LGBT+ rights can be varied, so it’s vital that a comprehensive audit be done to understand what is or isn’t permitted.”

Yet it’s not just the legal aspect companies must consider. Whilst some countries have decriminalized homosexuality, the cultural and social landscape could be very different.

“Companies need to also audit the cultural and social context as these can undermine legal policies and pose a risk to certain employees.”

With these audits and evaluations completed, companies can support their employees by fully briefing them to make an informed decision.

“When international placements are offered, businesses should be flagging to their LGBT+ employees that the countries might not be a safe option for them rather than counting them out entirely. It’s important to fully inform them and give them the choice rather than deciding for them – which would be considered a benevolent bias.”

An obstacle to this is organisational policies for career progression. Some companies have pre-arranged success programmes which are dependent on whether they have taken on an international placement. Vincent encourages these businesses to re-evaluate these policies and consider whether they’re really “necessary”.

“Companies should be reassuring their employees that if they decline the opportunity, that’s okay,” he says. “There shouldn’t be repercussions to their career. Is there another way they can get experience?”

This, of course, not only benefits LGBT+ employees but everybody. “Others disadvantaged by these policies can include those who have carers or are carers themselves, who have children to look after or have some form of disability.”

“Not everybody has the ability and means to uproot their whole life to go on an international placement.”

Therefore, for company growth and success, not to mention employee loyalty and job satisfaction, companies should be putting their employees’ safety and wellbeing at the top of the priority list. Ensuring they’re truly levelling the playing field for everybody’s career development will mutually benefit employees and the company’s bottom line.

For those employees who have chosen to embark on an exciting venture to a new country, how can businesses support them from overseas?

“Support comes in two forms,” Vincent begins. “The direct support is through resources. By putting up supportive infrastructure – country briefings, confidential lines of communication, emergency contacts both at home and in their placement location, buddy systems, etc., – wherever they’re being placed, means companies and its employees alike are prepared and have established actions.”

He continues: “The second is peer support. LGBT+ networks can be incredibly useful in providing support and advice.”

Companies should consider how to leverage its existing employees within the organisation to support others. If there are individuals who have previously visited the country or are about to embark on a similar journey elsewhere, or if there are employee networks already in place where they’re going, buddying them up equips them with relevant support systems.

Some organisations choose to implement a feedback process to get a view of the experience. By asking appropriate cultural and social questions like, ‘Was there anything you felt unprepared for?’, ‘What was the office culture like?’ and ‘Where do we need to focus next time?’, it can allow companies to objectively measure and plan for the future.

Leveraging globalisation and communication means employees benefit from the moral support, having someone trusted there to listen to concerns and can avoid putting employees in potential danger.

Still, whilst some countries have supportive networks to make use of, some may not, and simply by doing so can pose a huge health and safety threat.

“In countries where homosexuality is illegal,” Vincent says, “Networks and buddies can’t exist for safety reasons, even by association. They are putting themselves and others in danger, so companies need to consider alternative ways to support their employees from overseas.”

A way of doing this is through rebranding; having a more generalised support network and naming it something vague like the ‘inclusion network’ which doesn’t explicitly associate individuals with an LGBT+ identity, can be a subtle way of directing the care to those who need it.

Of course, Vincent advises, networks and allies must audit the legalities around this first. Another aspect to this conversation revolves around how organisations themselves operate in these countries. Should they implement a set framework for these countries?

Vincent suggests a few options: “In certain countries, it would be much safer to do as the Romans do. Or adopt an embassy model whereby operations are controlled within the four walls of the company. Regardless of how it functions, companies need to put their employees’ safety and wellbeing first.”

All employees need the reassurance that they won’t be treated any differently or will be subjected to harassment or discrimination, so a global framework with overarching policies which acknowledges these issues can give them the right protection.

In some cases, extra care and consideration must be taken. Vincent puts more emphasis on the importance of legal audits and reviews, saying they can “save a lot of time and prevent dangerous situations”.

For those who are transgender or don’t identify as a gender, the healthcare implications are salient. In countries that don’t legally recognise certain sexual orientations, will they have access to emergency and medical services?

“This is why it’s so important to ensure everything is watertight. The more support companies can provide, the more it shows they’re invested in their employees and their identities. Whilst rare and truly exceptional, I’ve even seen companies relocate temporarily, and long term, trans employees who cannot receive the health services they need in their home country.”

With the celebration of Pride this month and the world gradually opening up from the pandemic, companies should consider their existing policies around international placements and how they can best protect and support their LGBT+ employees. Revising these policies doesn’t only benefit LGBT+ employees, but can level out the playing field and benefit everybody.