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Is it time to ‘equalise’ international assignee experience from a DEI perspective?

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is critical for global workforce programmes and for many employers, the pandemic has put an even greater focus on employees, and in particular their individual circumstances and needs. As witnessed by ‘the Great Resignation’, how workers feel about the role of work plays in their lives has changed; they expect their employers to share and reflect their values, including commitment to DEI.

Traditional mobility policies, assignment packages, and talent programmes as a whole, cannot work as effectively when their target audience is constantly evolving. Diversity of talent in the workforce is ever-increasing and Global Mobility needs to continue to transform the way it thinks and operates to cater for this ever-changing and wider-ranging cohort.

Global Mobility approaches have traditionally included equalisation from a compensation perspective (e.g., considering the home and host country combination for the Cost-of-Living adjustment), but should consider equalising the experience of international assignees from a DEI perspective too:

  • 69% of LGBT+ professionals cited discrimination laws related to LGBT+ people as a reason why they reject a potential international assignment1. Is an LGBT person moving from a location where same sex partnerships are legal and there is employment protection, to a location where same sex partnerships are legal but there are no employment protections, or perhaps to a location where neither apply? Consider the additional information and overall support that will need to be provided in these scenarios. A friend recently explained that he declined the offer of a career enhancing two-year assignment to India because he felt that he would be forced to go “back into the closet”. He rejected the offer, and nobody could understand why from a career perspective. He shared with me that had he been offered more support, or even been asked if he wanted to confidentially talk about why he was saying no, this may have made him consider the offer more and felt that he was being thought of as person not just an employee.
  • Is an individual moving from a ‘high-context culture’ e.g., the UK and Japan, where people communicate in ways that are implicit and rely heavily on context, to a lower context culture, where people communicate information in a more direct, explicit, and precise way? When moving from a high-context to lower context culture and visa-versa, what kind of cultural and other relevant support might be required? This is not just about the ‘host’ country in isolation but must also be about where the person is coming from, and their nationality, in order to understand the ‘cultural gaps’ and how best to close them.

COVID-19 brought to the surface global inequalities and inequities within our society and within the workplace. The pandemic highlighted that inclusion and wellbeing go hand-in-hand. Are global mobility advisors addressing potential employee wellbeing issues and asking whether they are currently receiving any wellbeing support such as counselling? If they are, how can global mobility ensure that this support continues, and they have the same access to wellbeing resources on assignment? I spoke to an acquaintance recently who told me that while she had international medical insurance during her assignment, she went to a location where she could not access prescription medication she required because the healthcare support was just not there and so she ended her two-year secondment in a year. On reflection, an additional step of a short screening perhaps by the insurer could have helped check what support she needed and if she was being seconded into a location where this would be available. This is another example of where mobility teams could consider equalising more than just taxes and ensure that their assignees are primed for a successful move.


How can global mobility teams better support underrepresented groups to consider and ultimately progress their career journeys with an international move?


There are many pieces to the complex global mobility puzzle and to increase participation levels of underrepresented groups, all aspects of the Mobility programme should be re-evaluated. Once Global Mobility teams take those important first steps to align with the organisation-wide DEI strategy to successfully define their own DEI strategy, they need to consider what needs to change at the programme and function level and who will be involved in designing and implementing these changes. If the focus is on improving gender equality and more specifically increasing the number of women undertaking international moves, is there sufficient input from women who have families, women in minority groups, LGBTQ+ women etc., and is a truly human-centric approach to design being adopted?

Ultimately, the only way Global Mobility will know how successful it has been in embedding DEI is through feedback channels and data insights. There are legal and other restrictions as to what data can be collected in different countries and also with whom that data can be shared, but Mobility teams should consider the best ways to gather data anonymously where this is appropriate. This would help at even the most basic level, to gather and track key DEI demographics to understand the extent of diversity within the mobility programme.

There is so much that organisations need to consider in the DEI space, and it is no different for global mobility. Mobility teams need to refresh their current approach in so many areas to truly realise an impact on their DEI agendas and consider a whole new meaning for the traditional concept of ‘equalisation’.


1. McGivan, T., Altincekic, C., & Chatenay, E. (2020), Open For Business, “Working Globally: Why LGBT+ Inclusion is Key to Competitiveness