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29 Oct 2013

Hong Kong's business community steps out of the closet

Senior executives of 19 global financial services firms gathered last Thursday at Out on the Street Asia, the region's first LGBT workplace summit, to share their thoughts on LGBT diversity. Fridae's Hong Kong correspondent Nigel Collett reports.

If you had been standing in Statue Square last Wednesday evening, the 23rd of October, you would have seen something historic. HSBC's Main Building shed its red and white light display for the first time in its 30-year life and replaced it with the rainbow colours recognised internationally to represent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

On Oct 24, HSBC's main building in Hong Kong was lit up with the
colours of the rainbow to celebrate diversity and inclusion.

HSBC Hong Kong CEO, Anita Fung Yuen-mei, explained why the next day. Speaking to the first Asian Leadership Summit organised here by the New York-based NGO, Out on the Street, she said that the rainbow lights were intended as a sign that the Bank supported LGBT inclusion. The Bank was doing this not only because “it is the right thing to do” but also because it believed that “HSBC has no choice but to be an authentically compassionate organisation for which all its employees can joyfully work.”

Todd Sears, a gay American financier, founded Out on the Street in 2011, aiming to change attitudes on Wall Street using commercial arguments. That year, he held his first Summit in New York with six major financial houses and since then has held another in the States and a third in London. By the time Sears brought Out in the Street to Hong Kong, its membership had reached twenty-nine major corporations. Barclays took the lead in hosting the fourth Summit at the Conrad Hotel.

It was at one of the three Summits he attended that Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, famously responded to the question “Has Goldman lost business because of your support for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage?” that he didn’t care if they had, adding that no one had yet been able to walk him through the case for how discrimination made good business sense.

The Out on the Street Asia Summit was held  in Hong Kong on Oct 24, 2013.

Blankfein’s realisation that inclusive policies give a competitive advantage is now one shared by many of Hong Kong’s business leaders. A stellar array of those drove home that message at the Summit. They included Martin Cubbon, CEO of Swire Properties; Oliver Bolitho, Managing Director and Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management Asia Pacific; Andrew Morgan, Managing Director, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Credit Suisse Asia Pacific; and Robert Vogle, Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer Asia Pacific for Deutsche Bank.

The hard-headed business executives at the Summit neither saw their firms as human rights advocators nor were prepared to allow anything to deflect them from providing returns for their stakeholders. Instead, their support for LGBT equality in the workplace was motivated by the realisation that having equal, inclusive LGBT policies makes money. Here’s how.

First, supporting LGBT equality dramatically improves productivity at minimal cost. Bank of America Merrill Lynch calculates that 5-10% of its staff are LGBT and that these, when forced to hide their orientation or gender identity at work, do so only at a terrible cost in energy and emotion. That leads to the loss of about 30% in the productivity they would show were they freed to fulfil their potential. The financial cost of paying large numbers of people to work below their capability can be enormous in an international firm. Treating LGBT employees equally and inclusively leads to an immediate rise in creativity at virtually no cost.

Second, having good LGBT policies is tied closely to making profit. Credit Suisse is now so convinced that good ratings in the Corporate Equality Index (which the New York Human Rights Campaign uses to measure LGBT policies) lead to better corporate profits that they have issued an LGBT Equality Portfolio, which will include the stocks of 20-30 top equality-rated US equities from the S&P500. They have figures which show that these stocks outperformed the S&P 500 over the years 2008 to 2013 by 5%. This is not only because of the effect good LGBT policies have on a firm’s productivity, but also because LGBT policies are a measurable indicator of performance across a range of activities.

Third is the massive market for LGBT-friendly business, the Pink Dollar. It is clear that companies which treat LGBT customers better attract and retain them. How big this potential market is has always been something of a hazy conjecture, but by now a good deal of research has been done to clarify the figures. LGBT Capital, an investment firm focussing on the LGBT sector, says that, worldwide, LGBT people are estimated to have 10% greater income than their heterosexual counterparts. The margin in disposable income is even greater. The numbers are large. China, for example, is reckoned to have about 85 million LGBT people (more, in fact, than the entire population of any one European country), and these have an annual income of some US$300 billion. The LGBT market reaches approximately US$800 billion for Asia and a staggering US$3 trillion worldwide.

Todd Sears, a gay American financier, founded Out on the Street in 2011,
aiming to change attitudes on Wall Street using commercial arguments.

The realities of this business case have dawned upon top executives at a time when the financial world is in desperate need of good news. Finance houses lost much face in the 2008 crisis and have lost even more of their remaining ethical reputations (along with much money in fines and legal costs) in the scandals that have surfaced since. The industry has come around to the view that LGBT inclusivity is an issue through which they might just retrieve some of their credibility with the public. LGBT inclusion gives the banks good face, and attracts customers and employees of the new generations which are overwhelmingly in favour of LGBT equality and protection.

The banks have got the message, and have begun to realise that they cannot successfully implement equal and inclusive policies without being public about it. It is no longer enough to have good diversity policies; the world has to be told if customers are to know and potential employees to notice. More fundamentally, the banks are reluctantly beginning to realise that, if they are to ensure equality and inclusion in the workplace, they will inevitably need changes in society to match. Coming out at work in the goldfish bowl of Hong Kong is never going to work in the office if your employees are not protected outside it, if they can’t come out at home or if they fear that their next employer may discriminate against them. Free movement of same-sex partnered employees will only work if the host country recognises same-sex relationships by issuing a visa.

Other parts of Hong Kong business are only now waking up to the opportunities to be mined in inclusion. Martin Cubbon, the CEO of Swire Properties, put it succinctly: Swire had to be an ‘open, inclusive meritocracy’ to gain the edge it wanted and recognised that, particularly in its hotel business, “its LGBT employees are instrumental in delivering our product.” Swire now believed, belatedly, as Cubbon admitted, that to be a truly world class city and to allow its business sector to generate greater wealth, Hong Kong ‘needs to be open and inclusive’.

To change Hong Kong, as Todd Sears put it, “it is not only LGBT individuals who have to come out and be visible. Companies have to come out too.” Hong Kong companies are beginning at last to step out of the closet.

Nigel Collett is Fridae's Hong Kong correspondent. In 2008 he was appointed English secretary of the Pink Alliance, Hong Kong's largest grouping of LGBT organizations and he remains prominent in LGBT activism in that post. He was a founder in 2011 of Hong Kong's Pink Season, the annual celebration of LGBT culture.

Reader's Comments

1. 2013-10-29 16:23  
This is impressive action by large and influential companies. It shows that some are becoming convinced of the business case for action to promote diversity and inclusion and are doing something about it. Good. I hope that this attitude will begin to spread. There is nothing more powerful in influencing than having big named organisations acting as a strong signal to others. All of us interested in improving the position of LGBT people must act to support and strengthen this work.

Andrew Chidgey, AIDS Concern, Hong Kong
2. 2013-10-29 21:49  
additional information from Bloomberg: http://www.bloomberg.com/video/maximizing-lgbt-opportunity-in-the-workplace-U4qrWaG0SjOsa9UAxwBwmQ.html
3. 2013-10-30 00:26  
4. 2013-10-30 12:44  
Cheers ! Well done.
5. 2013-10-31 12:36  
how many LGBT work in that organization? 100%, 50%, 10% or just one person to attract?

We, LGBT all the world are brother-sister. We are a big family.
One LGBT marriage, all the world will celebrate
one LGBT in painful, we all LGBT will feel it too.
We do not want to hear one LGBT getting sad or in trouble.

Not only LGBT but our family too.
Religions had deceive us to seperate each others
seperate brother and sister, parents and children
seperate friends, colleages, and seperate nations.
seperate tribe to tribe
I had brainwashed by religion to hate other countries.

The procedure of religion just seeking difference and camouflage
the difference will be called harmful.
one by one difference kicked out.

Religion do not blow many differences because religion need big follower first. It is step by step.
one difference kicked out, next step will make another difference.
that is iterative procedure of religion to kick out many people.
LGBT is the first difference that being target.

at the end, there only one tribe in the world that is origin of hollybook. that religion want.
Religion using fake kindness to attract followers.

6. 2013-10-31 14:00  
The sight of such an iconic building in Hong Kong as the HSBC headquarters lit up in rainbow colours is a very potent symbol to lawmakers - far more than mere words, petitions, marches and the like.
7. 2013-11-02 10:16  
I went to bank to deposit money.
Teller gave me big smile.
But do you know that it was true smile ? or smile for money? not for me?
not only in bank but anywhere, shops, hotels, etc.

How will you find the true love? true smile?
LGBT represent love and true but Religion represent invasion and hungry of power.
some of LGBT were not Good because they hold Religion.

If you went to bank and you found LGBT in workplace, you can make assesment that the organization establish no conflict environment between workers. mean that possible true love and smile there.

So, number of LGBT in organizations/company represent true love, true heart.
this is called quality assurance.
The existance of LGBT in workplace indicate quality of work environment.
but religion symbols indicate hate, invasion

If you face 2 products with similar quality:
one made by love, another made by invasion.
Which products will you choose?

8. 2013-11-04 04:13  
One DAY they will be able to come out ONE by ONE, but in the meantime we will need those people who are in the closet to support the LGBT community in Asia!

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