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14 Jun 2010

Hong Kong NGO Community Business launches launches new LGBT resource guide for employers

Why should businesses care? How can businesses create inclusive workplaces for LGBT employees? The report looks at some of the challenges faced by LGBT employees in Hong Kong and provides some very practical suggestions of what companies in Hong Kong can do to make their workplaces more inclusive.

When the Government has set its face against legislation to outlaw discrimination against its own LGBT citizens, how can you make progress towards the goal of an equal society?

From left: 
Stephen Golden, Executive Director, Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs and
sponsor of the LGBT Resource Guide
Stephen Golden, Executive Director, Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs and sponsor of the LGBT Resource Guide, Shalini Mahtani, Founder of Community Business and Co-author of the Resource Guide; and Anthony Tenicela, Global Business Development Executive at IBM and sponsor of the LGBT Resource Guide.

Ex-Legislative Councillor, community activist and think-tank founder Christine Loh Kun-wai posed this question to the panel she moderated at the Foreign Correspondents Club on Wednesday 9 June, when Community Business launched its business diversity guide, Creating Inclusive Workplaces for LGBT Employees: A Resource Guide for Employers in Hong Kong.

Christine’s own answer was clear: “If you cannot get legislation, you have to change the geography, the social background, in ways which will make legislation inevitable.” By which she meant, of course, that if you can change the beliefs and behaviours of society at large, eventually even a Government which claims, as this one does, that it cannot introduce legislation for “lack of a consensus”, will have to follow the flow.

Changing society is some tall order, so this is going to be a long and incremental process, but where better to start than the most influential part of Hong Kong, its commerce? So Community Business has launched a project to change minds in the business community in order both to improve the lot of its LGBT employees and also thereby, bring us closer to legislation outlawing discrimination.

One of the main authors of this plan is Shalini Mahtani, charismatic and forceful Founder and Advisor of the non-profit organisation, Community Business (CB), which has been working in Hong Kong since 2003 and has as its mission “to lead, inspire and support businesses to improve their positive impact on people and communities”. CB is one of the main advocates in Hong Kong of Corporate Social Responsibility. Shalini herself is a veteran of the decade long and eventually successful campaign to extend Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination legislation to cover race.

Speaking at the launch of the Guide which she co-authored, Shalini said: “Matters relating to sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace are largely not addressed in Hong Kong, yet the cultural and legal context here is such that LGBT individuals face a number of specific challenges – not just in their private but also in their professional lives. Quite apart from the need for companies to be fair and responsible employers, companies should be concerned by the negative impact such challenges can have on workplace relationships, the health of LGBT employees and ultimately productivity and performance.”

She went on to enumerate the positive advantages to businesses whose employees are encouraged to be totally themselves and so are able to free up their creative drives for the benefit of the firm. This, of course, is something that has been learned elsewhere, and, in a few admirable cases, is already being introduced to Hong Kong by major international companies. Two of these, IBM and Goldman Sachs, have financed CB’s Resource Guide and both were represented at the launch by key players in their own diversity programmes: Anthony Tenicela, IBM’s Global Business Development Executive, and Stephen Golden, Executive Director, Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs.

The Guide is a substantial 50-page document that will be distributed initially to major corporations in Hong Kong. It is packed with information about the LGBT community and best business diversity practice. Community Business took enormous care to make the Guide accurate and useful, and so took advice from key local activists such as Hong Kong University’s gender expert Dr Sam Winter and campaigner Roddy Shaw, Chair of Civil Rights for Sexual Diversities (CR4SD), both of whom were on the panel at the launch. Also consulted were Mark Kaplan, one of the pioneers of LGBT workplace initiatives in the States, as well as three organisations: the US-based Human Rights Campaign; workplace advocate Out And Equal; and Hong Kong’s own Tongzhi Community Joint Meeting (TCJM).

As part of the accumulation of material and evidence for the Guide, Shalini’s team ran an anonymous online survey of LGBT employees between 3 February and 12 March this year. Despite great publicity and the joint efforts of Hong Kong’s community activists, only 139 respondents completed the survey, the low response figure in part an indication, if any were needed, of the fear that most people still have of disclosing themselves in any way connected with their work. The survey results showed large differences between those responding in English (101 of these) and those using Chinese (36). As expected, the latter indicated higher fears of discrimination and far lower rates of openness. All respondents indicated that they saw the top challenges they faced in working in Hong Kong as: coming out; the ignorance of colleagues; and the possibility of negative effects on their careers. The survey results helped drive the content of the Guide and are reproduced in one of its Annexes in full.

As this was going on, the TCJM completed its own survey of over 450 major companies doing business in all sectors in Hong Kong. From this it was clear that, whilst many international companies had diversity policies covering LGBT issues blazoned across their home websites, their Hong Kong branches did not. It was also clear that no major companies operating in Hong Kong had so far been prepared to state their LGBT diversity policies in public, even when they had implemented such policies and even when they were (as in the case of many of the investment banks) comprehensive, liberal and generous. Despite the need of many of these companies to import LGBT staff and their partners from abroad, and the legal difficulties these currently face in coming here, discretion still rules everywhere; for instance, investment banks that deliberately target LGBT university students for recruitment will not discuss this activity openly. It was clear from this survey that Hong Kong companies were more in the closet than their own employees.

Given this very low base, what will drive the changes CB seeks in the workplace? The answer Shalini gave was education coupled with commercial competition. CB plans a steadily widening series of workshops and talks for major companies to introduce the concepts in the Guide. This will be coupled with publicity in the local media focussed on encouraging companies to see that good diversity policies will give them a competitive advantage in terms of their effectiveness, their recruitment of staff and their customer relations. Once the ball has started rolling, and when CB and the two giants funding the project reckon that the market is ready, the next step will be the introduction of an annual, publicly-announced, LGBT index. This will probably rate the best ten companies working in Hong Kong in terms of their diversity policies, much as is done by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index in the US and Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index in the United Kingdom.

All of this is miles removed from the kind of tongzhi activist politics which we have seen in Hong Kong to date, which will, no doubt, continue to press for change through political channels and in more public ways. In fact the fight for a bill against discrimination is only now beginning to warm up. There are parallel campaigns being launched now in fields as diverse as education, where local groups are beginning to collect data to illustrate the pervasiveness of bullying and discrimination in schools, and the law, where a project has just been initiated, funded by Hong Kong and US universities, to trawl the Hong Kong statute book to identify all pieces of legislation that are discriminatory. Eventually, and we are looking at many years here, if not a decade, all these strings will be drawn together in a comprehensive drive for legislation to ban discrimination against LGBT people.

CB’s drive to introduce diversity to Hong Kong’s corporate agenda has the potential to be a major contributor in all this. It is the freshness of this approach, though, that is one of the reasons it is so exciting. The idea of using what is usually seen as one of the most conservative sectors of society to liberalise views, to make people’s lives better in ways that really matter to them and to help, finally, usher in legislated equality may be counter-intuitive, but is one which is about to have its day.

For information on Community Business, and a free download of the Guide, visit: www.communitybusiness.org

Creating Inclusive Workplaces for LGBT Employees in Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Reader's Comments

1. 2010-06-14 22:47  
If I may be so bold and working and employing some LG or even people with special needs, having a balance is important.

Work is work no need to shove your lifestyle into your colleagues or customer faces, in this I find there is little hassle and a lot of respect.

2. 2010-06-14 22:50  
If I may be so bold and working and employing some LG or even people with special needs, having a balance is important.

Work is work no need to shove your lifestyle into your colleagues or customer faces, in this I find there is little hassle and a lot of respect.

3. 2010-06-14 22:56  
Hmmm now I remember why I clicked twice and not because the server was slow... People generally pick up on our choice of lifestyle one way or the other. But as I say above if they see just another "guy" so to speak there is no more hassle than the usual bollocks one has to put up with at work!

Mind you it has taken me some years to get to this time in my life so to speak....
4. 2010-06-14 22:56  
It is interesting to read that this seems to be a secondary effort, because of a lack of government intervention and action on issues of concerns to homosexual employees.

It is my opinion that in general it is better to create change by voluntary action, not forced legislation. It is a process of education and understanding. Legislative authority and action tends to build up a wall of resentment.

Business, and life actions in general, are more often than not motivated by self-interest. If a business can be made to realize that by fostering a productive environment for ALL employees is conducive to business, they will tend to do so, if for no other reason than to enjoy the benefits derived from such action.

As I look back on the 18 years since coming to accept my homosexual nature, I find more positive gains made friend to friend and person to person than by legislation.

IBM is a classic example -( my birthplace is also the birthplace of IBM) when my grandfather began working for IBM in the 1930's he had to wear a white shirt, black tie and polished shoes to work, even though he was a machinist. My father later wore the same "uniform" to his IBM job. My family that works for IBM today, wear jeans and open collared shirts and often have no formal schedule, even working from home. IBM also has voluntarily established workplace benefit programs for same-gender relationships, in advance of any government legislation that some gay "activists" have sought.

I realize my life experience is free market capitalism and a relatively free and open society and this shapes my thinking, but as a rule
voluntary is always better than involuntary. Show your worth by your own action and you will be valued. If someone is blinded by prejudice or other factors, find someone that will recognize your worth and value and make the others regret their action by hitting them where it hurts - the wallet. There is no interest like self-interest. In time they will come, even if it is grudginly, to accept the valuable contribution a gay man or woman can make to their organization.
5. 2010-06-14 23:59  
One thing comes up in my mind after seeing Tai-Pan's post (Post #1)about should we put this at the work place. I find the idea of "Work is work no need to shove your lifestyle into your colleagues or customer faces" very good, but it does not happen as often as we wish.

Right, sometimes there is no need to show our life style at work, but most of the time the problem comes to you. Yes, you can work 8 hours a day, and do not talk anything about your personal life, and go home after 6. But for how long? One month? Two month? Half a year? How about 5 years? Or ten years? We spend most of our awake-time at work, we see our colleagues more often then our family. Can we really disconnect with them? And when we finally have a chance to talk, the topic inevitably will go to, how is your life going? are you seeing anyone? You want to tell the truth, but what if they does not seems open about it? what if they make jokes about Gay people?

What can you do? Lie? And once again, for how long? And are you happy about that? What if someday you are pit of excuse? You still have to see these people 5 days a week, for, God know how long. So what can we do? Leave? Is this really how things should go?

So I think this is why this issue need to be address. I was lucky enough to be in the Resource Guide launching that day. And as a openly gay man. I'm so proud of IBM, the company that I work for, and Goldman Sachs, and community business actually stand out and take the lead to ask companies in HongKong to look at these.

Comment edited on 2010-06-15 00:04:43
6. 2010-06-15 00:03  
Honestly, I believe that it would be best if we can be open about who we are at workplace. Not that we are going to shove that to colleagues and clients when they did not even ask. The reason being, working life may take a significant amount of time in our lives, and we do socialise and make friends at work.

I would love being able to share what I did over the holiday (eq: going to Mardi Gras parade) as much as I hear what my colleagues did for their own (eq: attending Hillsong Church Conference, or Catholic's World Youth Day, celebrating Rosh Hashanah, visiting parents for Chinese New Year, visiting Meccah for pilgrimage, etc). All without fear that this would damage our career.

The thing is, being gay, and gay-related activities don't have to be sexual or inappropriate in nature.

And no one should be censoring his activity mentoring at this counselling program called "Young & Gay", that seek to help young gay people be comfortable with themselves and aware of sexual health issues, to just saying "ah... I did a mentoring program for young people". And when his colleague says "that's interesting. which organisation hosts the the program?", he can't answer "VicAIDS / Gay Men's Health Centre".

This activity is gay-related, and very appropriate to be shared with colleagues. Not different to another colleague who shares his/her role as a Sunday School teacher at a church.
Comment edited on 2010-06-15 00:49:21
7. 2010-06-15 02:48  
Very sad, indeed.
Comment edited on 2010-06-17 06:54:32
8. 2010-06-15 04:40  
There are supportive media in HK that provides access to anyone who wishes to learn more about LGBT. There is even a gay sponsored and operated radio talk station where, other than discussing the usual ins and outs of a gay lifestyle, it is no different from any mainstream radio station playing good music and entertainment. Only problem in recent years seems to be the right winged x-tians managed to marshaled enough anti-gay sentiments from hate groups to try and force a legislation by the government to promote the Focus On Family agenda and weed out so called "pornography" such as homosexual media content. Yep, it's the darn x-tians again.

Though it's a good start as any, it's one thing for a company to say it's equal opportunity and gay friendly blah blah blah, but it's another if it does nothing to prevent or stop or even penalize discrimination at the work place against LGBT. The carrot and stick has to balance. What's the point of hearing that the CEO favours your work but does nothing when derogatory gay jokes are hurled at you during any event or pass you up for promotion against lesser deserving colleagues just because you make your superiors squeamish about your lifestyle. Everyone MUST walk the talk for these policies to work.
Comment edited on 2010-06-15 04:43:59
9. 2010-06-15 10:21  
I suspect even if equal benefits are laid out at these people's feet, they will refuse them because they would have to come out.

Sure no one is saying that you have to tell all your colleagues you're gay. But for example, many companies have social events like family days, Christmas parties, movie nights, etc and the invitation is extended to employee and a partner (of whatever gender), is bringing your same-sex partner "shoving your lifestyle into your colleagues' or customers' faces?" Is bringing an opposite-sex partner not "shoving your lifestyle..."? I guess we are our own worst enemies.

10. 2010-06-15 10:30  
"77 percent of Americans now say they know someone who is gay or lesbian, a new CBS News poll finds - an increase of 35 percentage points since 1992, when a majority of Americans said they did not." -- CBS News Poll (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20007144-503544.html)

Andrew Sullivan (http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2010/06/

It confirms what we already knew - that ending the closet is the key to equality. By far the best way to do this is as an act of positive affirmation. Those gay people who prefer careerism and safety over integrity and courage have every right to do so. But I also have every right to note that they are the key obstacles to their own progress - and no closeted person has any moral standing to complain about his or her inequality. He daily constructs the architecture of his own marginalization.

Gay equality is being pioneered among the younger, braver generation. They get it. And those who stood by must live with the knowledge of their own cowardice.
Comment edited on 2010-06-15 10:31:07
11. 2010-06-15 15:43  
Since when has being gay become a lifestyle? And why focus on the 'sex' part of homoSEXuality? Somewhere down the line did we forget this is about who we love and who we are? Sex is just a part of life. Yes, one would not discuss sex at work if it is against workplace ethics just like one is expected not to surf porn from office. Pretending to be somebody else at work is like acting in a movie for several hours a day without any rewards or appreciation (that's why acting is a separate profession, right?). Now, if one is acting 100% of the time at work that clearly implies they are not giving their 100% to the company that hired them to do the job. Surely, that is cheating?
Today, a person can be fired in HK (and most of Asia) for being gay. If his/her company doesn't have an anti-discriminatory policy covering gay staff, he/she will be left with nothing. Nothing. He/she cannot go to the court since there is no law that protects him/her against discrimination at the workplace for loving a person (who happens to be from the same sex). I think it is great that IBM, GS and CB have put together a workplace guide. I salute their leadership.
And to everybody who is moved by this article (which is a reflection of history in the making), you have commented because you have been touched by history. Isn't that a great feeling? We are all a part of it. We are all discussing it. We are together in this because united we stand.
Comment edited on 2010-06-15 16:06:11
12. 2010-06-16 08:23  
So much drama. Try this: any major investment bank in the UK or Australia. You are Legally Gay, and a photo of your partner from your Civil Partnership registration ceremony on your desk. See how far you will go on career ladder. You will end up on Fridae with only thing you have- with your freedom and more sour complains. Enjoy that. Being gay for many does not include being a man. Sorry, but no respect for that. Then again- everything depends on the environment. In creative world and fashion being gay is almost a must and if work for some aerospace or high tech, finance or other conservative business you should pack your wishful thinking into a small box and face the reality.
Comment edited on 2010-06-17 07:12:13
13. 2010-06-16 08:42  
I am amazed by some of the comments in this forum. As a non closeted gay man I am disappointed by remarks suggesting that being out at work is to "shove your lifestyle" into people's faces. Being true to yourself is about being honest and open to yourself and all around you, with nothing to hide and onan equal footing with the straight colleagues and customers who are at liberty to share stories about wives, husbands, girlfriends etc... You can not compartmentalize work, family and home life. Being yourself should be no threat to anyone. Being anything less is self oppression. The suggestion that we become invisible only perpetuates the myth that we are different, less equal, have something to hide or ashamed of who we are.
This report is a step in the right direction although it seems to me reading some of these comments that there are two other obstacles to overcome: A government that is afraid and unwilling to take the lead, that discriminates against its people and that refuses the laws of other countries to have effect within their consulates; ( my partner and I can not have a civil partnership in the British Consulate in Hong Kong although we can in Vietnam)and secondly judging by some of the comments above the insecurities of many members of the LBGT community. Coming out and being yourself is the key to equality both for yourself and every gay man and woman.
Re a couple of other comments, being gay is not about sex and although being gay may not be a corporate matter being true to yourself , open and honest and able to work to your best ability in a safe and secure environment absolutely is. Do not allow yourself to be oppressed and do not make excuses for your oppressors
14. 2010-06-16 14:55  
1) It is not sexual preference. It is sexual orientation.
2) Being gay doesn't stop the reproduction of human beings. This is an interesting topic but totally unrelated to the discussion here.
3) As advertised, I think thekentang18 has been very successful in his career. Congratulations. But it doesn't change the meaning of homophobia. Grow out of it.
4) Do not assume that the people who read news articles here are uneducated, unsuccessful or under-achievers.
5) Do not address readers as babe dolls and ladies. Be respectful.
6) Coming out is always a personal choice (you come out to people you trust) and vice versa. In order to work as a team, there should be trust. Without it, you're not a functioning team (i.e., not working to the best potential) and tend to be individualistic. I know that most job interviews tend to ask questions on team-play. Wonder why?
7) Being gay doesn't mean displaying rainbow flags or wearing pink feathers to office. It is about being able to display the photo of your partner on the desk, if your colleagues are displaying photos of their families. It means not having to lie to your boss when you want to take time off to attend your partner's mom's funeral. I know that there is a minority in the minority that may not care for this, but most people I know do love and respect their partners enough to attend.
8) Equality in law means a big plus to companies (I am not making this up, google it if you have the time off your 60-70 hours a week schedules). The focus is on attracting talent and retaining talent. Companies working out of a place like HK, with a limited talent pool, want to hire and retain the best. The best like TheKentang18 refuse to come to HK because their same-sex partners cannot get a dependent's visa. Some companies offer medical insurance coverage to their staff's domestic partners (who may be from the same sex). This helps a lot especially when living in a costly place like HK. But obviously, it is perhaps meaningless if you are paid so high that you don't care for these expenses. But the average person in the company does care.
9) Like mmlover0123 has mentioned, it won't be awkward for people interested in philanthropy to go and work in support of LGBT organizations in the community. Of course, it would make sense to someone who is interested in helping others.

One can show the path, but one cannot walk the path for you. You have to undertake your own journey. And, it is not the goal that matters. It is the way you got there. :-)
15. 2010-06-16 19:30  
@13 simontemplar: totally agree with your stance. :)

If the so called majority didn't put, gays, women, blacks & minorities throughout history thru serious stumbling blocks, there wouldn't have had been brave initiatives 2 fight 4 equality & acceptance. If being who u are at exactly the way the good Creator intended us 2 be at our best is a consolation 2 keep hiding in the closet, then it's pointless 2 even explain further. No one expects pink banners nor morning kisses but one should expect a basic environment 4 harmonious social integration. Sure, to all school bullies, there is always peace around cos those suffering & giving way to injustice, is the reason why there is peace; but it festers more vicious stereotype attacks for lesser generations of bullies to come.
It's like saying that a black cotton picker now promoted to a house keeper in a white household, now boasting to her own flock that, "Hey, life is not fair, but see, look at me now. As long as you just keep taking whatever s.h.i.t., all will be fine. Don't ever fight, it'll only stir trouble."

Na..Zzzz...such hypocrisy Repulse Bay repulses me-period! :D

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