by Jerry Funaro, CRP, GMS
Vice President, Global Marketing, TRC Global Mobility, Inc.
Challenges and Concerns for Same-Sex Couple Relocations
During the past 25 years I’ve followed my partner’s career as a “trailing spouse” multiple times while working for several relocation management companies. This personal experience allows me to say that same-sex couples have many of the same relocation considerations as any other couple: the partner’s job, real estate, children, schools, cost of living, cultural issues, distance from family and friends and more.
But there are differences. In particular, the unsettled state of same-sex marriage and civil union laws across the United States and around the world can present significant challenges. Some locations pose safety and security concerns. It’s useful for companies to be aware of the considerations that same-sex couples face, and to learn what your organization can do to facilitate these relocations.
Company Policies for Same-Sex Couple Relocation
With any relocation, the overarching focus should be on getting the right talent in place to contribute to the success of the business. Spouse and family objections can be major impediments. Policy support in areas such as partner career assistance can address at least some of these concerns. This support makes the relocation more likely to happen and more likely to succeed.
Many companies have recognized this and make no policy distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex couples in terms of relocation benefits, particularly for couples that have entered into a legal marriage or civil union. Some companies also extend consideration to unmarried domestic partners of employees, regardless of sexual orientation.
According to Worldwide ERC’s 2008 Family Issues report, 40% of respondents offer employment assistance to spouses while 31% offer employment assistance to domestic partners. More and more companies are realizing that the cost of extending these benefits is small, relative to the competitive advantage the company receives in sourcing and retaining talent.
Third-Party and Service Partners’ Role in Same-Sex Couple Relocation
In my first relocation as a same-sex trailing spouse, the relocation counselor seemed genuinely confounded by the situation. It was as if there was a pre-written script and the same-sex partner was shoehorned into that model whether it was appropriate or not. Awkward calls ensued.
In my partner’s most recent relocation, the relocation management company’s counselor had almost as thorough an understanding of my needs and job situation as my partner’s. The counselor conducted a personalized needs assessment and it became clear as the move progressed that she had prepared the service partners well.
This underlines the importance of training transferee-facing employees for today’s diverse employee population: The overriding concern should be minimizing stress, removing obstacles to relocation and getting the transferee and partner settled in and productive as rapidly as possible.
Likewise, service partners should be well-briefed by the relocation management company to ensure the most comfortable, productive experience for everyone concerned. With a proper hand-off, a relocation director can decide which of his or her agents is best prepared for, and most comfortable with, the assignment.
Same-Sex Couple Relocation Home-Finding
This initial home-finding experience can be even more important than the relationship with the relocation management company’s counselor, as it will color perceptions of the new location — as well as the company and assignment — for better or worse. An agent who is comfortable working with a same-sex couple will quickly put the couple at ease and help them to find a community and property where they will feel at home.
A successful home finding experience for a same-sex couple begins with a careful needs assessment. For example, a childless same-sex couple might prefer an urban location with good restaurants and varied entertainment options, while a couple with children will be more concerned with schools and safety.
For example, my partner and I had always lived in city neighborhoods until our most recent relocation. While city living was impractical due to the job location, a suburban McMansion was out of the question. We ended up in a 1930s farmhouse on two acres, in a rural town with one restaurant that closes at 8 pm—on weekends! (Our consolation is that New York City is an hour away.) While this was not a situation we would have considered on our own, our agent thought creatively and found a workable, customized solution.
In part 2 of this blog, I’ll go over some of the legal and safety issues involved in relocation for a same-sex couple.
Links to additional information