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Inclusion Without Borders: Strategies for Supporting LGBTQ+ Employees in a Multinational Context    

Inclusion Without Borders: Strategies for Supporting LGBTQ+ Employees in a Multinational Context    

July 2024

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A third of LGBTQ+ employees in the USA have previously handed in their resignation due to discrimination on the job.

To keep their top talent from leaving, companies must create workplaces that are not just diverse but also inclusive. However, creating an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ staff can be challenging for multinational firms operating across different cultural contexts and in different regions. 

So, what can these companies do to better include, support, and care for their LGBTQ+ talent worldwide? Let me suggest some strategies. 

How to Manage LGBTQ+ Inclusion in a Multinational Organization

Strategy #1: Develop a Global LGBTQ+ Inclusion Strategy and Adapt It to Local Contexts

Companies around the world, from Bangalore to Budapest, have started to realize the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce. This is because diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors and 70% more likely to capture new markets.    

However, as a leader at a multinational company, you can’t simply create a one-size-fits-all diversity and inclusion strategy without considering the best approach for each location where your company operates. A successful LGBTQ+ inclusion strategy might look different in Johannesburg than it does in Jakarta.   

To illustrate how to adapt global LGBTQ+ inclusion strategies to local contexts, let’s consider the example of a fictional global marketing agency called “Marketing Worldwide.”   

Marketing Worldwide develops a global LGBTQ+ inclusion strategy that includes the following elements:   

  • A clear non-discrimination policy that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in all aspects of employment (including hiring, promotion, and benefits).   
  • Diversity and inclusion training for all employees with specific modules focused on LGBTQ+ inclusion and allyship.   
  • A commitment to providing equal benefits for same-sex partners in all locations where it is legally possible.   

But when implementing this strategy in its office in a socially conservative country, Marketing Worldwide faces some challenges.    

To adapt its strategy, it takes the following steps:   

  • It works with local legal experts to ensure that its non-discrimination policy is worded in a way that complies with local laws while still communicating the company’s commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion.  
  • It adjusts its diversity and inclusion training to focus more on creating a respectful and inclusive workplace culture, rather than explicitly discussing LGBTQ+ issues which could put its employees at risk.   
  • While it cannot provide same-sex partner benefits due to legal restrictions, it offers alternative benefits such as additional paid leave and access to mental health resources for all employees, which can particularly benefit LGBTQ+ employees who may face additional stressors.  

By avoiding an inflexible approach to its global inclusion strategy and instead considering the specific legal and cultural context of each location, the fictitious Marketing Worldwide is able to support its LGBTQ+ employees to the greatest extent possible.   

Strategy #2: Provide LGBTQ+-Inclusive Benefits and Support

According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, 78% of LGBTQ+ employees in the USA feel that their employer’s senior leadership is committed to making meaningful progress on inclusion. This is fantastic news. And the best way to ensure that your LGBTQ+ employees continue to feel valued and supported is by offering benefits and support that are truly inclusive.   

To fully include and support your LGBTQ+ employees, we encourage multinational companies to consider offering the following adapted benefits:    

  • Health insurance plans that are inclusive of same-sex partners and provide equitable coverage for all employees, including LGBTQ+ individuals, where legally permitted. 
  • Equal parental leave policies that offer paid leave for all new parents, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.   
  • Domestic partner benefits that extend the same benefits and privileges to same-sex partners as to legally married spouses, for example bereavement leave, relocation assistance, and access to company events and facilities. 
  • Retirement and estate planning services that are inclusive of same-sex partners and non-traditional family structures. 

Strategy #3: Invest in LGBTQ+-Specific Diversity and Inclusion Training

Out Leadership’s 2023 survey showed that 73% of employees have felt uncomfortable or insulted by anti-LGBTQ+ comments from their colleagues. While companies have made strides in making LGBTQ+ talent feel welcome, there are still individuals who consciously or unconsciously engage in discriminatory behavior towards LGBTQ+ individuals.  

To address this issue, multinational organizations should provide training on LGBTQ+ inclusion topics. This training should be delivered in a way that resonates with local employees while still promoting the company’s global commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion. 

When introducing LGBTQ+ training in more conservative countries, consider the following approaches: 

  • Focus on the business case for inclusion. When introducing the idea of diversity and inclusion training, mention how creating a welcoming environment for all employees can lead to better teamwork, innovation, and productivity.   
  • When talking about the diversity and inclusion training (and in the training sessions themselves) be sure to use language and examples that are culturally relevant and sensitive.   
  • Offer diversity and inclusion training in smaller, more intimate settings where employees may feel more comfortable asking questions and sharing their experiences.  
  • Make the training voluntary rather than mandatory and frame it as an opportunity for personal and professional growth rather than a requirement or punishment.  

How to Create LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Different Regions

Let’s explore the characteristics of three broad regional groupings and strategies for LGBTQ+ inclusion in each: 

Group 1: Progressive Leaders

Countries that can be called “progressive leaders” are those where same-sex marriage is legal, where it’s illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals, and where LGBTQ+ individuals can live without fear of harassment, intimidation, bullying, or violence. In these countries, LGBTQ+ acceptance is widespread, and you are unlikely to encounter too much resistance to your support of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Companies with offices in these countries can consider the following strategies: 

  • Openly celebrating Pride month and other LGBTQ+ events. 
  • Developing and implementing a process for employees to update their name, gender marker, and preferred pronouns in company systems and documents.  
  • Encouraging LGBTQ+ employees to identify as such in surveys and focus groups that may be used to further develop the company’s diversity and inclusion strategies. 
  • Ensuring that company corporate social responsibility and philanthropic efforts include support for LGBTQ+ causes and organizations. 
  • Actively fighting for LGBTQ+ rights in the public sphere. 

Group 2: Emerging Allies

Countries that belong to this group have legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals and some may allow same-sex civil unions, but LGBTQ+ individuals in countries in this group still face social barriers to inclusion that mean that a balanced approach may be necessary.  

Social acceptance in these countries may also be low despite legal protections being in place, which means it may be necessary to more staunchly protect the identities of your LGBTQ+ employees and more necessary to tackle discrimination in the workplace. 

Companies with offices operating in countries like these should consider the following steps: 

  • Offering information to employees on how to respond to and report instances of LGBTQ+ discrimination or harassment in the workplace. 
  • Developing a policy for addressing instances of LGBTQ+ discrimination or harassment by customers, clients, or vendors, and training employees on how to respond in these situations. 
  • Providing training and resources for managers on how to create and maintain inclusive and equitable hiring and promotion practices, with a focus on addressing any unconscious biases or barriers that may impact LGBTQ+ candidates. 

Group 3: Unfriendly Areas

Countries that fall into this group have little or no legal protections and little or no social acceptance for LGBTQ+ individuals. In some cases, being LGBTQ+ may also be illegal and punishable by law.  

Openly supporting LGBTQ+ initiatives is not possible in these countries, and it is incredibly important to protect the identity of any known LGBTQ+ employees as well as to take measures to attempt to protect their physical and psychological safety too.

Companies with offices operating in countries like these should consider doing the following: 

  • Providing training for your leadership team on how to handle sensitive situations that may arise with LGBTQ+ employees, like responding to rumors or speculation about someone’s identity or supporting an employee who is outed against their will. 
  • Carefully vetting and selecting any local partners, suppliers, or affiliates in these regions to ensure they uphold principles of non-discrimination and employee protection, even if they cannot openly support LGBTQ+ inclusion. 
  • Offering international assignments or relocation opportunities to LGBTQ+ employees in these offices who feel unsafe. Allow them to transfer to company locations in more LGBTQ+-friendly regions if they desire. 
     

Making Your Multinational Company More LGBTQ+-Friendly on a Global Scale

If your company is embarking on a journey to learn how to better support its LGBTQ+ employees, no matter where they may live or work, a good starting point is ensuring that your company fully embraces and lives up to the UN’s Standards of Conduct for Business, which you can access by clicking here

With persistence and dedication to creating workplaces where everyone can succeed, multinational companies have the power to drive real change—not just for their own employees but for communities and societies across the globe.

About the Author

Kristof Reynvoet serves as Stanton Chase’s Global Chair. He holds a Master’s in Applied Economics from Ghent University (Belgium), a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Marketing from Vlerick Business School, and an Executive MBA from Kellogg Business School (Northwestern University, US).

Diversity Equity Inclusion and Belonging
Talent Management and Employee Well-Being

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