Mixed messages for gays in workforce

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am
 

Most of the working population think it is unacceptable to discriminate against homosexual, bisexual or transgender employees - but a majority in the latter group say they feel discriminated against at work.

These findings, from two surveys, one of more than 1,000 employees at large and the other of almost 700 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) staff, were released yesterday to coincide with International Day Against Homophobia.

The polls were conducted between November and January for Community Business, a non-profit group that promotes corporate social responsibility.

One, the first of its kind on employee attitudes to LGBT colleagues, found more than 80 per cent believe it unacceptable to exclude the latter from social events or deny them a promotion based on their sexual orientation, while 68 per cent said they were 'very much' or 'somewhat' willing to work alongside them.

Almost 80 per cent think LGBT individuals do face work discrimination and 67 per cent hear people tell jokes against sexual minorities.

At the same time, 85 per cent of respondents to the survey of LGBT staff said a non-inclusive workplace had had a negative impact on them, 71 per cent said they had to lie about their personal lives and just over half said it was difficult to build authentic relationships with colleagues.

This does not appear a paradox to Professor Sam Winter, a University of Hong Kong academic specialising in transgender and sexuality studies.

'It only takes one person to make someone's life miserable,' he said. 'I can assure you just as there is discrimination against individuals, there is indirect discrimination against those who advocate on their behalf.'

Winter said serious attention should be paid to the minority figures in the survey, which found that 35 per cent of the working population considered it unacceptable to give LGBT staff in a role where they meet customers, and 25 per cent said it was acceptable to not offer a job to such a person.

An Equal Opportunities Commission spokesman said the survey findings showed that sexual minorities 'are still often treated as outcasts' at work. 'Every one of us should have the freedom to be who we are irrespective of our sexual orientation and gender identity,' he said.

Connie Chan Man-wai, of sexual-equality advocacy group the Women's Coalition of HKSAR, said it all came down to creating a safe and inclusive work environment.

'LGBT individuals have to know they won't lose their job if they come out and their boss will treat them the same as other colleagues,' Chan said.

She said discrimination also needed to be more clearly defined, as many might see dismissal for sexual orientation as discrimination but not think a casual joke fell into the category.

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