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Why is the Issue of Discrimination so Important for Expatriate Staff?

Why is the Issue of Discrimination so Important for Expatriate Staff?

Global Mobility staff are routinely faced with complex challenges when it comes to effectively managing relocation assignments.

Although demanding, the complexities don’t stop at matters such as contractual amendments, cost of living and bridging loan calculations.

Indeed, these areas are just part of a far bigger picture, which has, over the years, grown in complexity to incorporate the broader personal preparation of expats and their trailing family members.

Supporting Expats Abroad

Past (and often high profile) faux pas committed by companies clearly demonstrate that allowing staff to relocate with the bare minimum of preparation can, and does, damage company and expat reputation while also jeopardising the considerable sums of money invested into the relocation of the expat through assignment failure.

Expats who leave for an assignment satisfied with the tangible package itself but with no understanding of the local business culture or an understanding of the local laws and customs are far more likely to fail to assimilate effectively and, subsequently, far more likely to return home early.

On a positive note, global mobility staff now increasingly recognise the need for face to face or online cultural training which helps staff to assimilate more effectively into their assignment, build productive relationships and to avoid some of the dysphoria that comes with culture shock and the subsequent assignment abandonment to which this might lead.

Understanding Discrimination Laws Abroad

With cultural training a given for most savvy global companies, businesses are now appreciating the need to also add a full understanding of local discrimination laws into the mix in an effort to ascertain the degree to which a relocating expat might face discrimination within their new role or the broader society in which they will be living.

Why? Because, not all countries promote equality and respect for human rights to the same degree.

Many of us in the West take equality as a given. We are fortunate to live in societies where human rights are respected and where there is legislation in place to prevent people being discriminated against on the basis of their gender, age, sexual orientation, religion and associated beliefs or race.

Clearly however this is not the case elsewhere which has the potential to put some employees in a difficult predicament if they are assigned to a country in which they have a physical attribute or preference which might put them at risk.

So where might expats be subject to discrimination?

Let’s take the extreme example of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and parts of Nigeria, Iraq and Somalia as examples. These countries are part of a group of 13 countries where homosexuality is punishable by death. In seventy other countries, we also see non-capital (but still severe) punishments being meted out to homosexuals.

In some countries, homosexuality is seemingly legal on paper, but in reality, there is a lack of protection afforded to homosexuals and crimes against this group are both common and unpunished. Take for example Russia, where homosexuality is not illegal, but attacks on homosexuals are increasing in number.

Similarly, when it comes to transgender individuals, many of the seventy countries mentioned offer no legal protection to transgenders, which again, creates the potential for ‘invisible’ retribution by locals.

A prime example of rights on paper which are contradicted by an opposing governmental agenda is that of the Trump administration which continues in its endeavours to prevent transgender staff serving from serving in the US military, something which has been labelled by civil rights groups as ‘transphobia masquerading as policy’.

Discrimination is clearly not just levied at homosexuals. Race, religion and gender too are often a reason for discrimination both within corporate setups and surrounding local areas.

There are also many countries which are logistically unable to support people with disabilities or, not prepared to. In countries where the integration of disabled people into mainstream society is not valued, it is often the case that the local environment may not be disability friendly, which will provide significant barriers and challenges for a potential relocation of someone with particular disabilities.

Resonsible Expat Management

All businesses have a duty of care to their relocating exapts which goes way beyond ensuring the relocation package is suitable and that they have sufficient cultural understanding to assimilate well into their new host country.

What can a business do to act on this responsibility?

1 - Communication channels should be open and positively managed wherever possible to facilitate discussions between the relocating expat and the business which establish an understanding of whether potential preferences / practices need to be looked into for the country to which they are relocating.

2 - Critically, should also engage an agency or an expert to understand the respective legal frameworks and possible areas of discrimination in host countries. It’s not good enough to look at ‘what’s on paper’, somebody sufficiently qualified should be commissioned to ‘look beneath the skin’ and identify what the implications might be on a local basis when it comes to potential discrimination. Are there any ‘invisible’ laws at play? It’s key to bear in mind that expats are not just part of the workplace, they are also expected to live in the local culture where expectations and tolerance may differ greatly. As such, chasms between written law and local norms should be understood where necessary.

3 - Processes should also be established to enable expats to report issues back to the mobility team as quickly possible for resolution or support. Feedback should be analysed in the long term to help mobility teams understand potential trends.

4 - Discrimination and diversity training should also be offered where possible to staff in overseas offices to ensure that company values and expectations are fully communicated.

5 - Supporting expat materials should be made available online to encourage and enable global access

Clearly businesses can’t change local laws but it can spend play a supportive role to its expat employees and ensure that steps are taken to prepare expats whose personal preferences or beliefs may make them a target of intolerance or discrimination overseas.

 

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