Prejudice at work hurts on a personal and business level
For the past two years, my colleagues and I have been working with companies in Hong Kong to create a more inclusive workplace for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. Today, we take that work one step further by releasing groundbreaking research that looks at both the general attitudes of the working population towards these employees, as well as the experiences and perspectives of the workers themselves.
This new study paints a picture of life in Hong Kong for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people, and points to some of the challenges and opportunities that exist for employers.
A growing body of research demonstrates the business case for embracing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. However, this is possibly the first research for Hong Kong that so clearly demonstrates the business imperative for accepting sexual minorities at work.
The findings show that the majority of such individuals in Hong Kong lead dual lives, concealing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity from family and colleagues. They show, too, that there is widespread discrimination - both in the community at large and in Hong Kong's workplaces. Of particular concern for employers are the findings that workplaces that are not inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees have a negative impact on business performance.
As many as 85 per cent of sexual minorities say a non-inclusive workplace has had a negative impact on them personally. Seventy-one per cent of them have had to lie about their personal life, while 54 per cent say it is difficult to build authentic relationships with colleagues. Some 53 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees say their well-being is affected 'by having to pretend to be someone they are not', while 51 per cent say they 'waste energy worrying about others finding out' about their sexual orientation.
And up to 26 per cent say they have stayed home from work over such problems. This empirical data shows that the performance and productivity of these employees suffer when the working environment is not inclusive.
A number of findings are significant for Hong Kong society as a whole. First, the community appears more accepting of sexual minorities than has often been assumed. While there is room for greater education and understanding, the majority of people say they do not have an issue with sexual minorities and that discriminatory practices towards them at work are never acceptable.
Second, the study highlights a demographic trend: employees from the post-1980s generation are both far more accepting of sexual minorities and more concerned by the discrimination they face.
Third, as evidenced by the positive response rate to the survey, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are willing to come forward and share their views on this subject. We believe these findings point to a changing climate in Hong Kong and that it is time for greater openness and dialogue.
It is no longer appropriate to overlook this topic as being too sensitive or too difficult to address. Taking proactive steps to understand and meet the needs of sexual minorities, and creating a more inclusive and open environment for them, will not only be good for business, it will also be good for Hong Kong.
This research has focused on the workplace. But the business case for being inclusive extends beyond it. With sexual minorities making up an estimated 5-10 per cent of any population, these individuals are not only our employees, but also our customers, investors and other stakeholders. In failing to address their needs, we ignore the interests of a significant minority.
Ultimately, what is clear from this study is that there is a need for greater leadership on this subject in Hong Kong.
Companies have a clear opportunity here, and those that choose to lead will gain.
Shalini Mahtani is founder and board member of Community Business. www.communitybusiness.org