Top tips for world gay work equality

What the best global employers are doing to ensure their gay, bisexual and lesbian staff are safe and happy when they work abroad

Top tips for world gay work equality
08 June 2012

It may seem like a small world, but businesses are getting bigger.

Plenty of companies now like to send their employees out on tasks or positions in other countries, but this can mean lesbian, gay and bisexual people find problems they did not have at home.

British gay rights charity Stonewall has produced a guide called Global Working aimed at employers who have staff on overseas assignments across the globe, including in countries where it is illegal to be gay.

The fact is being a gay man is still a crime in over 80 countries worldwide, while being a lesbian is illegal in 49. In five countries homosexuality is punished by death, in seven by life imprisonment and in six by hard labour.

But lesbian, gay and bisexual people rightly want the career prospects, the heightened responsibility, and the personal thrill of working in another country too. So it is up to companies, and it is their legal obligation, to protect their employees. However, many do not know where to start or even what the issues are.

Even in countries where homosexual sex is legal, some gay and bi people still suffer:

  • No legal protection from discrimination at work
  • No recognition of their relationships with partners, even if they are in civil partnerships or marriages
  • No formal parental rights
  • Restrictions on immigration rules allowing same-sex partners to apply for visas
  • Bans on gay people meeting or networking with one another
  • Legal restrictions on ‘promoting’ homosexuality, preventing gay people and organisations from talking about gay sexuality openly

The benefits for ensuring their employees are treated equally are huge. Organisations can develop and retain their talented staff, avoid costly recruitment costs, improve their reputation, enhance business performance and not run the risk of being sued by disgruntled ex-employees when they return back home from their foreign assignment.

Companies who are already reaping the rewards include giants like Barclays, Goldman Sachs, Accenture, IBM, Ernst & Young, Google and the UK Home Office.

In Global Working, Stonewall has outlined the top tips they have for businesses to stay ahead on worldwide equality. 

Apply your policies globally

It is important global organisations apply the same equality and diversity policy in all countries where they have offices. Even if that means the policy exceeds local legal requirements, companies can then rest easy. 

For example, technology company IBM’s global diversity policy bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in hiring, training, compensation, promotions, transfers, terminations and social and recreational functions. Most importantly, it is applied consistently across all of the 170 countries in which IBM operates.

Include sexual orientation in your relocation policy

Companies should make it clear to the gay, lesbian, and bi staff on overseas assignments that they will be given their full support, and will be brought home if necessary.

However they should also frank by saying they are not above the country’s laws, and their power to help only goes so far.

For an employee wishing to bring their partner, policies should be gender neutral. In professional services firm Ernst & Young’s policy, a partner is defined as ‘a legally recognised spouse or partner (including same-sex and co-habitation relationships as defined under home country laws), significant other (including same-sex partners) or fiancé’.

Train managers and relocation staff

In countries where homosexuality is illegal, special care is going to be needed. That is why managers and relocation staff need to be trained.

So global bank Barclays has equality training for its managers, and has a full support staff for its employees who move to another country. Each employee is given a case manager that provides a large range of support, from the logistics of moving to personal considerations.

Give staff enough information before they go

Stonewall says companies should not assume their employees know the legal and cultural situation for lesbian, bi and gay people worldwide.

If they know the situation, they can make a fully informed decision before deciding to take on the assignment.

Barclays’ case managers, for example, take responsibility for finding out about the human rights of gay people in different countries, as they are responsible for relaying this to their charges.

Provide alternative opportunities

Sometimes it is too dangerous, and occasionally someone has no choice but to turn down an offer of an international opportunity.

In those cases, Stonewall advises companies seek alternative options to develop their employees.

Law firm Simmons & Simmons makes it clear other solutions will be considered. These include, among other options, proposing alternative locations, working remotely, or allowing for return visits.

While consulting firm Accenture works in conjunction with their staff identify similar opportunities in a different location – or elsewhere in their home country – that provide a similar or better prospect for progression.

Offer same-sex partners equivalent benefits

In Global Working, it points out ways companies can give same-sex partners equivalent benefits to their heterosexual peers.

Simmons & Simmons’ policy states they will find an alternative way of getting a partner a visa in a country which criminalizes homosexuality.

In countries where Google is legally allowed to enrol non-married partners as dependents, the company allows employees to enrol their partner without having to declare their relationship to the beneficiary.

Following a review of Goldman Sachs same-sex benefits in the Asia-Pacific region, it was discovered that one of the health insurance companies the firm used in Japan didn’t extend its coverage to same-sex partners. Goldman Sachs told the insurance supplier that it would seek an alternative provider if it could not extend its benefits to same-sex partners. The insurance company soon changed its policies accordingly.

Support staff networks

Make it possible for employees abroad to keep in contact with their staff network back home, adding extra security if the worker does not want to be exposed as gay.

Chapters of consumer goods company Procter & Gamble’s LGBT network work closely together to ensure global consistency and help employees moving from one region to another. Each region makes use of teleconferencing to allow employee across the globe to link in.

British LGBT military personnel can also use Proud2Serve, a social networking site which includes a forum that acts as an online support and information service.

The UK Home Office SPECTRUM LGBT network has a position of ‘international representative’ on its committee. This position was introduced to help address the isolation some network members felt in certain countries, and to more effectively address staff questions on international issues.

Provide training to in-country managers

In-country managers are very often not homophobic, but just lack the proper training to support their openly gay staff. 

IBM solved this problem by recruiting volunteers from their LGBT network and assigning them to train managers.

Offer global career development opportunities

If a company establishes formal mentoring relationships between lesbian, gay, and bisexual staff across the world, then a new generation of leaders can be born.

Ernst & Young use this policy, and has a number of ‘champions’ of LGBT issues in many locations. For example global vice chair for public policy Beth Brooke and her colleagues, created an It Gets Better video, to help gay teens, which was sent to all Ernst & Young staff.

Google holds an annual three-day summit for leaders from their network groups from all over the world, including members of Gayglers, Google’s network for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

Champion gay equality wherever you are based

Multinational companies should use their influence as a global employer to promote messages of equality for LGBT people everywhere the company is based.

For example Barclaycard is the sponsor of World Pride and Pride Month is thoroughly celebrated in Goldman Sachs, with events that include discussion panels and film viewings.

Quite surprisingly, Google was the only the only corporation with a float in the 2010 EuroPride march in Warsaw, Poland. Google then received the Hyacinth Tolerance Award from the Equality Foundation in recognition of the company’s contribution towards making the country more open, tolerant and diverse.

Global companies need to stay one step ahead, and ensure their most talented staff members are able to be in the location they can help the business most. That’s why if a lesbian, gay and bisexual staff member is offered the opportunity to advance in their company and move abroad, it’s essential the company does everything they can to ensure they can work to the best of their ability.  

You can download the guide here.



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Andrew Potts

Journalist – Gay Star News