Employers are tackling barriers to sending gay staff abroad

Diversity chiefs have insisted they are actively tackling the challenges of sending lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) staff to countries where homosexuality is strongly frowned upon.

Globalisation means that private sector firms and government departments are increasingly posting staff to countries such as China, Russia and the Middle East, where LGB staff risk persecution.

Michael Shearer, assistant director of diversity and equality at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, told delegates at Stonewall’s workplace conference in London last week that in many countries gay staff faced difficult situations.

“In some countries, we can’t lobby for equal rights for homosexuals, mostly on religious grounds, and we do face difficulties in posting our staff there,” he said. “It’s not ideal, but we are pushing the boundaries and this issue is on our agenda.”

Stephen Golden, executive director, office of global leadership and diversity, at investment bank Goldman Sachs, said more gay and lesbian employees now felt comfortable being ‘out’ in the workplace. This meant that challenges such as [working abroad] were more openly discussed than before, he said.

Equality legislation on sexual orientation differs from country to country, with companies having no control over those laws. “But employers can control their own equal opportunity policies and make sure they globally have non-discriminatory language,” Golden said.

He warned employers against ducking the issue. “Some managers may think it is complicated to send a gay employee abroad, and fall into the trap of adopting an avoidance strategy. Research shows that having overseas assignments is often critical for leadership development, so that’s simply not an acceptable option,” he said.

Jonathan Finney, senior parliamentary officer at Stonewall, added: “In a global labour market and a Europe without borders, equality for gay employees shouldn’t end outside Britain.”

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