A pride parade under the words DE&I and mobility, helping expat partners to anchor remains essential

Written by Jacqueline van Haaften, Global Connection

As the daughter of a merchant navy navigation officer, I greatly appreciate the maritime analogies in the RES Forum’s report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in post-pandemic global work. Just like a captain can’t sail the ship on his or her own, an expat needs the support of their partner/ spouse / family to make a success of the assignment. That’s why I am ‘hoisting the flag’ in the name of a ‘partner proof’ DE&I program.


The first sea change

It might be interesting for some to know that gender bias led to partner support being taken more seriously. When some companies on-boarded their first female expats, the attitude was: ‘you can’t expect a man to sit next to the pool with a glass of wine – we need him to find a job!’ We decided not to take this personally, and gladly took advantage of the momentum to get the topic of spousal support on the agenda.


No one left adrift

More recently, I am hopeful that appreciation for the importance of partner support will further rise with the tide of DE&I-related discussions. But I also hope we don’t go overboard. Our goal is to take care of all expat partners. If we all agree that every individual should have access to opportunity, fairness and justice, then partner support cannot be a flex benefit. It’s for everyone. For us, it always has been.


Supporting LGBTQ+ partners a given

Recently, Global Connection was invited by an RMC to discuss what they called a ‘sensitive topic’. They were in touch with LGBTQ+ partners and were anxious to know if we could support them. We had to read the email twice. Why would we treat an LGBTQ+ partner any differently? During the meeting, the RMC explained: ‘sometimes such partners cannot get work permits. But non-LGBTQ+ partners on a regular basis have the same issue! Don’t get me wrong: we don’t underestimate the challenges LGBTQ+ partners are facing. But don’t think that those who don’t belong to that group have a smooth voyage.


Irrelevant question

For years, we have supported many LGBTQ+ partners, but when getting in touch with our partners to help them define their support needs, we never ask them to state their sexuality. For us it’s an irrelevant question. However, we do talk about the restrictions they face, as we do with everyone. Taking those restrictions into account, we help them to make plans for a fulfilling occupation, whatever that might be. A truly holistic approach doesn’t allow for preconceived notions on any topic.


Navigating uncharted waters

In the end it doesn’t matter if a partner is 24 years old and fresh out of university, a mother of three who has never had a professional career, a gay researcher with a PhD, or a devout Christian moving to a Muslim country, or vice versa. Each one has left their network and comfort zone behind. If someone feels marginalised for any reason (their race, religious belief, sexuality, professional status), we’re there to help them to take positive steps, form new networks and find their place in society. For us, there is no ‘in-group’. Every partner is an individual trying to navigate uncharted waters, and we’re there to support them.


A primary employment condition

In closing, if you would like to attract LGBTQ+ talent, and enthuse them about a posting abroad, please remember to address their partner’s needs, preferably in advance. It’s never simply an ‘administrative issue’. I say that as we know of expats who technically relocated with ‘their studying nephew’ as they couldn’t reveal they were in a same-sex relationship. However, we also know how difficult it can be for ‘the nephew’ to remain happy with that status. I hope that this report and the increased attention on DE&I will lead to spousal support becoming a primary employment condition for LGBTQ+ partners. Should that come to pass, non-LGBTQ+ partners will also benefit. As it would be in the spirit of equality that everyone be granted the same rights.


This piece is from The RES Forum’s research paper – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in post-pandemic global work. You can download the paper here.

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About Global Connection

Global Connection is an independent, international expat partner support organisation. We support the partners of employees on international assignments worldwide. Our expert consultants, coaches and trainers work with each expat partner to contribute to their wellbeing on assignment, increasing the likelihood of a successful posting. With over 25 years’ experience, Global Connection is still the only supplier with a global scope to focus 100% on expat partners.