By Sabine Rock-Speelman and Slagin Parakatil, Mercer
In today’s dynamic business landscape, true innovation occurs when ideas are the product of a diverse global workforce thinking together, working together, and sharing ideas to create bold new solutions. In fact, it’s impossible (or at least difficult) for true innovation to take place if you don’t have a diverse global workforce that’s reflective of the diverse global communities your organization is serving.
From a global HR perspective, having a diverse mix of employees within your company means you’re better able to assess a wide range of viewpoints and opinions on a variety of matters pertinent to the business, whether it be in regards to sexual orientation, gender, age, religion, and so on.
When you consider all this, it becomes clear that prioritizing diversity within your company isn’t just a matter of values or ethics … it’s also good business practice. That’s because, at the end of the day, being able to tap into diverse consumer bases is much easier when you’re actuallyworking with members of those consumer bases.
Still, implementing the correct talent mobility solutions for all your employees is a challenge. Each country has its own laws, customs, and regulations related to these matters, and it’s your duty as an expat management expert to take these considerations into account before, during, and after every international assignment. To help get you started, here’s a comprehensive overview of how to manage key LGBT-, gender-, and age-specific challenges within some of the world’s more non-diverse locations.
LGBT-Specific Diversity Challenges
External LGBT-Specific Challenges
There are many unique challenges that come with managing LGBT employees both externally andinternally. One of the most prominent challenges is identifying all the countries where these employees could be subject to discrimination or personal harm. For example, if you relocate a same-sex couple from Europe to a region of the world with strict laws against same-sex partnerships, any number of complications could ensue. Unfortunately, these locations are more prominent than you might think.
In fact, as of 2017, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association still lists 72 countries which criminalize perceived sexual transgressions to varying degrees, including everything from fines to imprisonment to death sentences. In instances like this, it is your obligation as an HR manager and as a company to ensure duty of care, meaning you must properly assess any potential risks or complications before relocating employees to such locations.
Internal LGBT-Specific Challenges
There are also some internal challenges that come with assessing these risks. That’s because, for a large majority of HR professionals, an employee’s sexual orientation is a personal matter, meaning you cannot inquire about it whatsoever. This makes total sense from a privacy standpoint, but it does make it rather difficult to determine which candidates would be most at risk in certain locations. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to overcome these obstacles without having to cross any personal boundaries.
The easiest way is to simply be as transparent as possible at all times – that is, literally beingas open and communicative as humanly possible. Make it a practice to provide each and every one of your employees with all the documentation and insights you can access regarding the country-in-question’s laws, restrictions, and regulations. By doing this, you’ll empower them to make the decision about whether or not they should take the assignment.
Also, always keep in mind some of these key questions/considerations that your LGBT employees will surely have on their minds when assessing the attractiveness of any international assignment:
- “How will the laws of this country treat me?”
- “Will my partner be treated fairly?”
- “Will my parental rights be respected?”
- “How will my colleagues react?”
- “Is my company obliged to offer additional support to for me as an LGBT expat?”
Gender-Specific Diversity Challenges
External Gender-Specific Challenges
Did you know that, as of 2018, According to the World Bank (http://wbl.worldbank.org/) there are still 104 economies throughout the world that prevent women from working certain jobs and/or working at certain times? Here are a few examples:
- Women in Belarus cannot work with pesticides.
- Women in Moldova cannot drive buses with more than 14 seats.
- Women in Russia cannot drive trains (on top of 450+ other restrictions).
- Women in Bahrain cannot install electrical power at night.
- Women in Bangladesh cannot work underwater.
- Women in Malaysia cannot transport goods or passengers by road, rail, water, or air at night.
- Women in Angola cannot work in gas production.
- Women in Nigeria cannot work at night in gas works.
- Women in Egypt cannot work with fertilizers, insecticides, or hormones.
- Women in Argentina cannot distill or sell alcohol.
Again, note that these are just a few examples. As a whole, it’s estimated that 2.7 billion women around the world don’t have the same choice in jobs as their male counterparts. This results in some obvious complications when it comes to managing a global workforce and lessening the disparity between female and male expats.
As with your LGBT employees, the easiest way to prepare a female expat for an international relocation (assuming she is legally allowed to work in that location) is to be as open and communicative as humanly possible. Convey any difficulties that she might encounter, whether due to subtle cultural differences or rigid laws and regulations. Educating your workforce empowers them to make informed decisions on their own accord. As an expatriate management professional, that is one of the most fundamental aspects of your job.
Internal Gender-Specific Challenges
Historically, international assignments have been very expensive for companies – sometimes even three times more expensive than regular work. Due to this, many assignees are selected based on the technical skills they possess, or simply to fill a gap. Consequently, men have (and still are) often selected over women to go on assignments, especially in more traditional organizations or fields such as oil and gas. This still occurs throughout industries, however, even in spite of studies that repeatedly show female expatriates are just as willing to take on expatriate assignments.
In fact, according to 2017’s Mercer Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices, the percentage of women working in the expatriate workforce globally is only 14%. The figure is 10% for Asia Pacific but closer to 20% in the US. However, these variations don’t change the overall conclusion: none of the industry sectors comes close to 50%, and knowing that the percentage of expatriate women in some industries and in the most developed economies lingers in the 20 to 25% range brings little comfort.
Meanwhile, Mercer’s 2016 Global When Women Thrive Report revealed another prominent gender imbalance occurring through global organizations, especially within higher-up positions. Studies showed that the average compositional makeup of the following positions were:
- Support Staff: 51% Male, 49% Female
- Professionals: 62% Male, 38% Female
- Managers: 67% Male, 33% Female
- Senior Managers: 74% Male, 26% Female
- Executive: 80% Male, 20% Female
The 2016 Global When Women Thrive Report also showed that, compared to their male counterparts, women expatriates are perceived to possess more of the unique skill sets which are vital to taking on international assignments. These skills include flexibility and adaptability, inclusive team management, and emotional intelligence. But even so, organizational barriers are still keeping them from fully implementing these skills throughout the global workforce, which is no doubt a significant loss to their organizations, as well.
Generational Diversity Challenges
Complex age demographics and more diverse generations of workers throughout industries will continue to impact international HR management initiatives and global mobility programs. In response, you’ll need to identify and address the needs of your younger generations, such as millennials, with the oft-conflicting needs of Generation Y and other older generations.
This will become an even greater challenge in the near future, especially since, by 2020, millennials and Gen Y are predicted to make up 50% of the workforce. To prepare, you can start by identifying the top benefits that these two demographics have in common around the world, which include:
- Career progression opportunities.
- A diverse workplace.
- A socially responsible company.
- A fair work/life balance.
- Business travel and international relocation opportunities.
From an international HR management perspective, the above last point is obviously the most pertinent. Indeed, 7/10 millennials and Generation Y express a desire to work abroad, while 63% view international experiences as an important part of their career progression. However, providing all these benefits is difficult when you’re also factoring in the needs and wants of the older generations that make up today’s aging workforce. For many talent mobility experts, technology can greatly assist in creating policies that satisfy a wide variety of needs while reducing favoritism.
Addressing Global Workforce Barriers with the Location-Risk Assessment
One of the first steps towards overcoming workforce barriers for any demographic group is to start your talent selection process as early as possible and on as small a scale as possible. By starting early and honing in on a select few candidates, you’ll be able to more comprehensively review any of individual support necessities, while also preparing yourself to address the most relevant matters related to transparency, support, and mentorship.
Also, it’s always a best practice to perform a location-risk assessment and evaluate objectively the degree of hardship. This will allow you to break down any potential complications by their degree of severity, after which you can weigh your potential alternatives. A location-risk assessment can be seen here, listed in order from highest- to lowest-degree of severity:
- Locations with severe legal restrictions and risks: The best action for these severely risky locations is to not send high-risk expats there. Instead, engage with your career management teams or higher-ups to find an alternative solution.
- Locations with specific legal restrictions related to visas, fines, and similar matters: Consult with your compliance, career, or risk management experts to explore the most practical alternative assignment set ups for these locations.
- Locations with conflicting cultural customs and societal differences: Spread awareness of these differences to your potential expats through intercultural training and mentoring, and also proactively address any questions they might have.
- Locations with occasional, low-impact issues: Again, engage in awareness, mentoring, and intercultural training programs for your potential assignees to educate them on these potential complications.
- Locations where there are rarely problems: Take the time to communicate on the importance of diversity in this location so your assignees can adapt as quickly and comfortably as possible once they relocate.
As an expatriate assignment manager, remember that the safety, health, and wellbeing of your employees and their families are a top priority. As a result, you should always strive to be as open, understanding, and realistic as possible to efficiently manage expectations and let your workforce know what challenges they might incur on any international assignment. By doing this, you’ll empower not only yourself and your employees, but also your organization as a whole.
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