I’ve lived and worked in Hong Kong for 11 years – most of that time as an “out” married lesbian leader. It’s an odd feeling sometimes, making my home in a city that not only refuses to recognise my legal UK marriage but where technically I can be fired for being gay (unless I work for the government. Go figure!). Local statistics suggest 78% of Hong Kong’s LGBT+ university graduates return to the closet when they start their career for fear of – well – not getting a chance to start their career. My mission is to change that statistic; improve self-esteem for all LGBT+ talent and ensure our full productivity.
So it was an honour to be invited to join The Economist Gallery of Numbers panel in HK recently on issues and actions to support greater LGBT+ diversity & inclusion in the workplace, in conjunction with Pink Season HK.
Getting the Definitions Right
Firstly, to clarify definitions on these topics:
- LGBT+ is the acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and the + represents many other groups of sexual and gender minorities (eg. Questioning and Intersex – formerly appended as IQ).
- Diversity = embracing, respecting and valuing differences including in gender and gender identification, race, caste, faith, disabilities, age and sexual orientation.
- Inclusion = valuing and harnessing the contribution of diverse employees towards business goals.
Hence a diverse workplace may not be inclusive; an inclusive workplace may not be diverse. You need D&I.
This very creative panel concept seamlessly blended experience and solutions to explain the research numbers generated for The Economist’s Pride and Prejudice global D&I conference earlier this year, combined with an art exhibition by HK’s too-often invisible LGBT+ artists, curated by former Ogilvy PR Hong Kong content creative, Shawn Griffin.
Michael Gold, Editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit, moderated the evening which consisted of Leonie Valentine, Head of Google Hong Kong, Fern Ngai of Community Business NGO driving responsible business, Robert Williams of Asia Media Search and myself from Ogilvy Public Relations.
Success Begins with Diverse & Inclusive Talent Recruitment
The goal of a diverse and inclusive organisation requires the right diverse talent intake, so we began highlighting how critical diverse recruitment is to HK business. Companies must make recruiters aware of their position on the importance of D&I to their organisation and not allow a recruiter’s personal views, religious affiliation or assumptions that an employer follows local discriminatory laws to filter out LGBT+ candidates. Every recruiter and company representative who impacts the recruitment process must be briefed on D&I principles.
The “Hourglass Effect”
Consider where the generational collide is occurring in LGBT+ attitudes to understand the “hourglass effect” (my name for it). C-suite leadership – more confident with seniority, more open to risk taking; often expatriates from countries where same sex marriage is legal – lead the call for D&I. There is relatively lower risk given their higher profile and career security. Millennial talent hold more progressive views on protecting LGBT+ diversity. In HK, 92% of 18-24 years olds now agree there should legal protection for LGBT employees.
Now look who’s caught in the middle. Middle management plays a prime role in talent development and demonstrating culture. Yet most HK managers/directors grew up in a less accepting era and follow their own beliefs. And this is not just conservative fields like banking and law. Even HK ad agencies suffer a gap between perception and reality here. Seemingly innocent, negative labels (eg. That’s so gay!) can ensure an LGBT+ staff member stays closeted at work, or even resigns quietly. Community Business workplace surveys in HK have highlighted this dynamic. Since LGBT+ staff networks don’t fully address this without the required culture change, Unconscious Bias training is needed at mid management levels as a top priority.
LGBT+ Art as the Human Face of the Challenge
Shawn Griffin curated works from 6 artists who have faced personal struggles documented in their LGBT+ themed art. Their main barrier is local gallery owners perceiving no market for LGBT+ art. Their stories were very raw and inspirational, drawing offers to show their work in HK’s corporate offices to help overcome the gallery barrier. Each of the artists added a very human dimension to the impact of LGBT+ discrimination in Hong Kong and brought the Gallery of Numbers concept to life very creatively.
Show Me the Money
The Economist’s survey data from 1000 global business leaders – 275 Asia-based – did not yet see a financial benefit from LGBT+ diversity, reducing the imperative to drive it. Softer benefits such as staff retention, employee satisfaction and workplace collaboration were ranked higher than potential financial benefits. Consistent with my “hourglass effect”, half of the CEOs interviewed want to work for a company that is an advocate of LGBT+ rights and agree that companies should lead change though.
The panel concluded on how business can drive change. Hong Kong is a business hub, and when we can see a “Return on Equality” quantified business case for LGBT+ diversity then we’re going to drive attitude change most effectively. Several global LGBT+ professional lobbying organisations have entered Asia in the last 2 years, supporting The Economist’s call for financial impact data. Companies should join these networks and add their voice and economic impact to deliver real change in Hong Kong’s boardrooms and government policy.