As an inclusive country, the UK is a low-risk country for the majority of its workforce, a similar experience echoed in other LGBT-friendly locations such as America, Brazil and South Africa. But for employees in different areas around the globe, or those on international assignments to countries overseas, the welcome may not be quite as warm as it would be in these lower-risk destinations. When it comes to supporting LGBT employees’ global mobility, there’s a lot to consider – and it’s vital to be in the know to ensure the ultimate safety of your staff wherever they are in the world.
Global mobility for LGBT individuals
For global organisations, the majority of placements and international assignments are created based on the merit of the individual employee; whether they’re a rockstar in their field or hold a particularly vital skillset, this is the first consideration of most worldwide firms. But when it comes to LGBT staff members, there’s a little more to consider. In fact, according to statistics provided by Stonewall, more than half of the total countries worldwide don’t offer any form of protection against discrimination for LGBT individuals, and in some of these countries, sexual acts with those of the same gender may even be illegal under the law.
As such, there is more to consider than simply the individual’s skill set when considering their placement in a country abroad. International human resources are a must to ensure global diversity can remain as effective as possible within businesses. This means providing the support and tools for LGBT staff members to take the same opportunities as all other team members, leading to:
- The development and retaining of effective and talented LGBT staff members
- The improvement of the organsiation’s global reputation in regard to LGBT rights
- Compliance with LGBT discrimination laws across all countries, from the UK and beyond
Issues facing LGBT global mobility
For LGBT individuals, the act of working abroad can be a difficult one, especially when it comes to the various barriers they can face in the workplace as a result of the location in which they have been posted. These barriers can include anything from a lack of rights and protection, all the way through to the restriction of rights or even criminalisation in the most extreme cases. It’s vital that businesses are educated on the LGBT laws and barriers of a country before deciding upon sending an individual to a country that may be unsafe for them.
In countries such as Hong Kong, Russia and Middle Eastern locations, the challenges faced by LGBT employees may be far more significant. In contrast to more LGBT-friendly destinations, the majority of companies within the countries stated do not recognise the rights of individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual. However, these concepts may apply to locally-run businesses, but that does not necessarily mean that global companies should carry those same discriminatory policies or laws.
Using global diversity to your business’ advantage
With many multinational companies openly leading the way when it goes to changing the laws and behaviours surrounding LGBT culture in anti-LGBT locations, the ability for LGBT employees to reach their full potential is easier than ever, promoting global diversity as a positive element of your business practices. Ensuring you allow your LGBT employees to reach their full potential is a must to ensure your business can reach its full potential too.
Technology is unquestionably changing the modern marketplace for corporations and businesses when it comes to moving their employees or teams to branches in different countries. With many trends maximising the efficiency of mobility professionals, 2020 is rapidly shaping up to be a landmark year for managers looking to optimise their workforce and put their effort and energy where it truly matters.
So, what elements maximise the global mobility of the modern workforce and why are they so effective?
Talent sourcing platforms allow businesses to deploy analytics that can help earmark and identify the best candidate for any job. This can be as simple as finding employees that speak multiple languages, possess key performance criteria, or have worked on similar projects and can add value to work in a different region. If employees aren’t quite hitting the mark, these programs can help break down the skillset for the role into concrete keywords; letting you review your internal staff database or recruitment pool for potential quality hires or transfers when it comes to managing your international human resources.
Blockchain’s ability to store employee and team data can empower you to review that information more holistically and effectively. Transferring data between departments or countries can result in a segmented view of information and an inability to ‘see the big picture’. Choosing to securely store key data through global blockchain technologies means that businesses are provided with a concrete history of all transactions and interactions and allows the data to be updated from a single point of contact. This cuts down the fuss that comes from teams accessing data and the disruption that can stem from international relocation.
AI programs can take up some of the slack when it comes to handling employees looking for references from different international departments. Mobility managers can deploy chatbots to field questions from teams across the globe in many time zones and choose to personally respond if the assistant is unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Many artificial intelligence programs can help employees by providing answers to common problems, links to relevant knowledgebase information, or storing targeted queries and delivering them to their handlers. As the AI encounters more questions, it learns and improves; taking some of the strain off your mobility manager and providing 24/7 support to even the most over-stretched of teams. This way the system and its processes become more refined and more suitable to your unique business needs.
With VR and augmented reality programs on the rise, it has never been easier for individuals working in different geographic locations or time zones to be present for important meetings or data sharing. This can be as simple as holding a group conference call using a range of smart devices such as everyday laptops, phones, or tablets. Alternatively, using augmented reality elements on virtual platforms can allow your attendees to interact as if all your staff were in the same room together. They can also use virtual diagrams or pointers to visualise key projects, build decisions, or add value to the meeting in a way that would be impossible even if people were present in a shared physical space.
Current research into the reasons why assignments fail conclude that they often do due to family issues, and/or because of difficulties trying to integrate into the host society. When it comes to conducting research, organisations often focus on the effect the international move has on the assignee or their accompanying partner and often lacks the perspective of the child.
As someone who spent the majority of my early life and schooling years living in Spain, I wanted to cover a few points from my perspective as to what it was like growing up as an expat kid.
Where do you come from? Not an unusual question to ask someone the first time you meet them but, for global children, answering that question can be rather tricky. For me, it’s also not an easy one.
I would answer London if I chose the short answer, the longer version is that my parents moved between multiple areas in Spain and the UK over a period of 12 years, however I have lived most of my adult life in London and the Home Counties. The other common question I faced was, where do I consider my home to be – this was also a tricky question to answer. “Wherever I lay my hat” was my go to.
The unique life experience of having to move and regularly adapt to new environments has given me a strong sense of ambivalence as to where home was, where I belonged and a strong feeling of being different. Personally, I often feel closer to someone who has the same experiences as I do, regardless of nationality or cultural background, than I might do with someone from the same country as me.
A new understanding of the term “Home”
The concept of having a home is important to many people. There is a wide perception that if you don’t feel at home anywhere, then you must be rootless. For me, I don’t believe this necessarily applies. Instead, from my experience I see the home as something mobile, not a caravan or RV, but a something that is not linked to a specific geographical location. I find a home is a feeling more than a place and this feeling is mobile and recognisable. Home is where I feel at home and therefore, home can be in multiple locations.
The important role of an international school
Most of us probably remember our schools for lots of things – good and bad – but for me, as an expat child, school served as an important link in my life growing up. The support my schools provided in developing and encouraging extra-curricular activities and social networks was a huge bonus and made making friends an integral part of my experience.
My experience was by no means as turbulent as those expat kids that move between multiple locations globally. However, I believe the expat experience truly opens up a multitude of possibilities and exposure to different cultures which promotes an open-mind and the ability to see the world in many different ways.
If my story resonates with you I would be delighted to hear about your personal experience.
Recently I have found myself in several conversations about global mobility risk. Due largely to geo political reasons there is a sense the economic, social and environmental landscape is becoming ever more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (“VUCA”).
For many, the stresses and pressure of the situation are relentless and overbearing, things are just getting too difficult, the challenges that require bridging just seem to be too big even for the most experienced leaders in business and society.
In my opinion, VUCA is simply one of many ways to describe the wider landscape within which business is operating. It captures a difficult, systemic truth about the state of our markets, our society and our politics.
However we describe the current landscape, most business leaders agree that everything is in a state of flux – so much so that the very idea that businesses can continue to generate revenues from a marketplace where they have built a level of competitive advantage seem to be under threat.
So, what do we do?
Perhaps the most useful strategy is not to get hung up on trying to mitigate all risks, but to focus on maximising the potential opportunities that VUCA can provide. Ensuring there is capacity to respond quickly to opportunities and to take calculated risks could offer any organisations quite a considerable advantage.
Businesses must take risks to survive. Yet all businesses must also try and mitigate those risks in order to survive.
Traditionally the approach to identifying risk has fallen to the person at the top of the pile or at very best to those sitting on the board. Yet the more diversified and devolved the process identifying risk, then the more likely it is the knowledge and understanding of which effective strategies could be implemented. This inclusive approach has the added benefit of creating spaces in which innovation around opportunities are more likely to happen.
The new goal of business strategy is to understand how to constantly evolve competitive advantage, adjusting to an increasingly dynamic and uncertain world.
Agile companies are able to confidently take more risks not only because they have more diverse, inclusive risk scanning capabilities, but because they can quickly flex if the decisions they made turn out to be wrong. They can learn from those mistakes and move forward. Risk taking then can become a learning strategy in its own right.
When strategy becomes difficult and the direction, scale and scope of change is difficult to map, it is always far to easy to just do nothing. But it is clear to me that not taking action to create an agile capability that can thrive on risk leaves companies open to falling behind their competitors.
From extreme weather resulting in forest fires across Europe, a devastating earthquake in Indonesia, political unrest in Iran and Zimbabwe and the continual threat of terrorism, only goes to further highlights the importance of duty of care for organisations with globally mobile employees.
Although mobility is essential for the strategic global growth of any business, it does not come without inherent risks to both the individual and the organisation. Employees can be caught up in anything from political unrest, natural disasters, outbreak of a disease or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Duty of care is deep-seated within most organisations policies and business processes when it comes to dealing with risks in the workplace, however it becomes more challenging when that workplace could be located anywhere in the world. So what can be done to provide adequate duty of care for those globally mobile employees?
What is Duty of Care?
Duty of care is an employer’s responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who may be affected by their business. Organisations must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this. This is a very broad term and as you would expect is open to a certain amount of ambiguity. It is therefore not surprising that there can often be a lack of clarity of what is needed in order to provide the necessary duty of care for all concerned, especially when it comes to those global employees.
What Steps Should Be Taken?
For those organisations who may not necessarily have the resources to create and administer a comprehensive global mobility risk management programme it can be a challenging and sometimes daunting task. Organisations may need examine the end to end processes in order to ensure that the corporate policy ticks all of the duty of care boxes. Breaking the stages down into logical steps allows for far easier management of the process.
The core steps that should be considered are:
- Understanding the Risks
An important first step would be for businesses to analyse and determine their mobility exposure. This is where accurate global mobility data can be very useful, by collating information on all of their globally mobile employees worldwide, their locations, job functions, employee behaviour, mitigating circumstances and scheduled travel allows global mobility teams to build a detailed picture of the potential risk. Organisation must also consider special locations, risks and coverages. For instance, the needs of expatriate and long-term assignees will have different factors compared to the needs of short-term assignments and business travellers.
- Developing the Policy
Organisations will likely need to bring together key stakeholders from across the business and potentially an external expert to assist with the development of the mobility risk policy. The risk policy needs to be robust and fully embedded with the central global mobility and travel polices before being effectively communicated to all. Incorporated into these policies should be procedures and strategies for both proactive and reactive situations and guidance on the roles and responsibilities of internal and external stakeholders, along with detailed information on the range of assistance partners and insurance programmes that are in place.
Once the policy is in place, effective communication to employees will be key to ensure they are aware of the commitment undertaken by the business and also what roles they themselves need to play.
There is training and education that can be provided for employees and managers, these can be in the form of online travel safety awareness courses to medical risks and country specific knowledge and intercultural training.
Geographical monitoring will be able to provide trusted pre and on-trip information, covering destination risk assessments, medical information and country profiles. Thus ensuring organisations and their employees are as prepared as possible before any travel or assignment commences.
The next type of monitoring comes in the form of the individual employee. Possessing accurate real-time data on their static locations, planned and current travel itineraries will enable businesses to take any necessary steps to help ensure their safety. Having systems in place that allow organisations to locate and communicate swiftly and clearly with employees is critical to managing and mitigating any risks.
Offering both reactive and proactive support for employees around the clock is a key factor for any effective duty of care programme. Organisations may need to communicate updated travel information or guidance to employees during their trip or assignment, employees may also have their own medical or security concerns that they require advice or assistance with.
Having solid channels of communication with globally mobile employees will enable organisations and individuals to pre-empt (where possible) and effectively deal with any potential incidents that they may arise.
Although rare, there will be times when businesses and their employees may find themselves faced with the unimaginable. It is therefore vital that organisations implement an incident management programme to plan, avoid and respond to such crisis situations (e.g. emergency evacuations, terrorism, political unrest, natural disasters etc.). The incident management plan should be developed with all stakeholders both internally and externally, and be regularly revisited, updated and tested.
At this day in age it’s difficult to foresee all eventualities, however having a robust duty of care policy and risk management strategy which is effectively implemented and communicated throughout the business helps to offer piece of mind to employees and an efficient response structure should the worst happen.
Through our engagement with HR & Global Mobility leaders we have noticed a trend that many Global Mobility teams are striving to move away from being seen as an administrative function that purely co-ordinates employee moves, to instead being seen as a more valued strategic contributor to the organisation. However, the reality is those leaders are experiencing varying degrees of success.
Support for change is needed from across the business which is no easy task considering the commercial reality, competing priorities and tight resources many organisations are facing.
Buy-in from the senior management teams is crucial to enable and drive change within Global Mobility programmes.
Challenges for Obtaining Buy-in?
There are several challenges for Global Mobility teams who are striving for change.
Organisations are typically resistant to change and generally there is a lack of understanding of compliance duties. Add to this limited resources and the fact that collaboration and integration between functions remain the exception not the norm. This can often mean that there is dearth of consistent identity and positioning for Global Mobility within the business.
Operationally, there is more regulation and compliance than ever before. This adds additional risks and costs when moving and hiring talent across borders. These continually changing regulations and compliance requirements are uncompromising and highly stringent on employers.
A persuasive case to the management will have to focus on how an effective global mobility function will address these challenges, both strategically and operationally.
Aligning Global Mobility to the Wider Business Strategy
A crucial element to gain management support is to ensure that there is a vision of what Global Mobility should look like for the business. This will enable the senior management team to have a better understanding of how Global Mobility can align to the wider organisational strategy.
A few areas for consideration:
- Corporate Culture and Objectives
Understanding the high level goals of the organisation and what it is trying to achieve should ultimately determine the shape and form of any mobility programme.
Due to the ever dynamic nature of international business and uncertainty in the geopolitical landscape, many organisations need more flexibility and agility when deploying employees globally in order to increase competitive advantage.
Also, Global Mobility teams should consider how their programmes are aligned with the culture and core values of the organisation.
If the employee journey and experience is an important focus within the business, does this align with the current mobility programme? Are employee aspirations, expectations or experiences a consideration or is the focus driven by process and compliance tick boxing?
- Reducing Cost and Increasing ROI
Cost and return on investment will always be important for senior management, subsequently the key themes will be around the implications of organisational mobility in terms of investment, savings and returns.
Will changes in policies, procedures, systems or resources require investment? What are the expected returns – cost savings, resulting efficiencies?
Typically, we see the cost of Global Mobility being passed from department to department before ultimately coming out of the HR budget. A fully owned and ring-fenced budget, managed by a centralised Global Mobility function, will enable financial transparency for management purposes, through improved planning, accountability and effective vendor management.
- Technology Innovation
Improvements in technology now offer a huge amount of potential to enhance efficiency and effectiveness within Global Mobility programmes.
Global Mobility teams and organisations are moving away from locally managed spreadsheets to more comprehensive future-proofed technology platforms that support integration between functions such as HR, Global Mobility, Tax and Payroll.
But it doesn’t stop there, there is also an increased focus on data and how it can be utilised to better drive decisions, strategy and action. Analysing accurate data across Global Mobility programmes allows teams to measure and improve service performance, identify risk and trends and enable informed decision-making by both the senior management teams and the mobility function.
- Talent Strategy
The war on talent is relentless and competition for talent is fierce, however an effective Global Mobility programme can offer the potential to enhance talent acquisition and development for all levels of employees.
Strategically, Global Mobility should unite in the process of forecasting and planning for the future talent needs of the business. What skill sets does the organisations need to attract, where will they need to be and when will they be needed?
Another key area within talent strategy and where Global Mobility could add value is identifying and developing future leaders within the business. It is important for these future leaders to acquire the international exposure and experience that is expected for senior management positions.
The opportunity to work internationally is now a key draw for many employees seeking new roles, especially for Millennials who place a huge amount of importance on gaining professional experience within different cultures. Employers who incorporate international opportunities within their employee development schemes will be more appealing to top talent.
On the flip side there needs to be a focus on retaining repatriating employees. In order to avoid high attrition rates, these employees will want to understand what their future remit will be within the organisation.
Impact of Global Mobility Strategy
Securing senior management buy-in is imperative in developing a truly effective and sustainable approach to Global Mobility. Ultimately it rests on convincing senior management that Global Mobility can deliver in alignment with the overall business objectives, supporting the organisation’s competitive advantage.