During a session at the first leg of The Economist’s 24-hour Pride & Prejudice event, in Hong Kong, Qantas’ CEO Alan Joyce called for more CEOs and business leaders to ‘come out of the closet’ in order to be more authentic and effective leaders.
“The world would be a more tolerant and inclusive place if LGBT business leaders were open about their sexual orientation”, Alan Joyce, the chief executive officer of Qantas Airways, told the Hong Kong audience.
The Qantas CEO frequently speaks out about diversity in the workplace and is a champion for LGBT rights. He said: “It has become more important for leaders who are LGBT to be open about their sexuality. I am passionate about it. There should be more people like Apple’s Tim Cook and Paul Zahra, the former CEO of Australia’s David Jones [store chain].”
He went on to make the case that there are strong business reasons for companies to recognise all aspects of diversity. A Goldman Sachs report stated that there is a 15% uplift in productivity if people are satisfied at work and able to be open about who they are.
As an Irishman, Joyce said he was pleased to see Ireland vote in support of same-sex marriage last year, an outcome he put down to growing awareness among the heterosexual majority that they knew people in their family, at work and among their circle of friends who were LGBT.
However, his views come amid an upsurge in homophobia in East Asia and new data showing that many Asian executives still don’t acknowledge the needs and benefits of being open about sexual orientation and gender identity.
Worrying developments in the region recently, include China’s decision to ban portrayals of homosexual relationships on television. In Hong Kong, the Christian right is waging a long-term campaign to block government moves to criminalize discrimination against sexual minorities. However, on the flip side, Manny Pacquiao suffered a huge dip in the Philippine election after his anti-gay comments.
The Economist’s recent research shows that in Asia, business leaders are less likely to be aware that there are members of the LGBT community working in their companies. According to a survey of 1,021 global executives, 62 per cent of North American respondents said they had colleagues in the LGBT community and fewer than 4 per cent said they did not know any LGBT people in their work and personal lives. By comparison, only 38.9 per cent of Asian respondents said they had LGBT colleagues, and more than 16 per cent said they didn’t know any LGBT people.
Michael Tan, Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Diliman, who also spoke at the conference, said, there have been LGBT communities in Asia “since time immemorial” and having more leaders out of the closet, and having the media portray contemporary LGBT narratives, would help normalize the community in the eyes of mainstream society.