Sexual orientation and gender identity have long been regarded as sensitive subjects in Hong Kong. The attitudes towards, and experiences of, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals are not widely understood. That is why a recent study is attempting to advance the dialogue on the subject, particularly as it clearly relates to the workplace.
The Hong Kong LGBT Climate Study 2011-12, released by non-profit organisation Community Business, examined both the general attitudes of Hong Kong workers towards the subject of LGBT, and the experiences of LGBT employees themselves.
Key findings show that Hong Kong people are more accepting of LGBT individuals than has previously been assumed. Some 58 per cent of respondents said they were accepting of LGBT individuals, compared to 22 per cent who said the opposite.
Most Hong Kong workers find employment practices that discriminate against LGBT employees unacceptable. Of note, more than 80 per cent said it is unacceptable to exclude an LGBT individual from social events or deny them a promotion.
There continues to be, however, a small but significant minority that accepts discriminatory practices. Some 30 per cent of respondents found it acceptable not to give LGBT individuals customer-facing roles. A further 25 per cent said it is acceptable not to offer jobs to LGBT individuals.
The findings also show that 60 per cent of LGBT employees are not open about their sexual orientation and gender identity at work. This, however, can impact workplace relationships, affect employee engagement and retention rates, and impair productivity and performance.
International research provides further evidence of this. Stonewall, a UK-based LGBT rights organisation, found that concealing sexual orientation at work reduces productivity by up to 30 per cent.
Richard Seeley, regional head of Spectrum Asia at Barclays - who sponsored the Hong Kong LGBT Climate Study 2011-12 - says the negative impact of not having an inclusive workplace can be huge.
'We assume 10 per cent of our population is likely to be LGBT,' Seeley says. 'Barclays has 150,000 employees globally. If a non-inclusive environment reduces productivity by 30 per cent, that is the same as us employing 4,500 people who don't come to work.'
He says the corporate sector in Hong Kong must take a proactive role in fostering LGBT-inclusive environments, in order to sustain their staff work performance and attract talent and clients.
'The best future talent is going to come from Gen Y. As we know, Gen Y demands that the organisations they work for are diverse, open and accepting,' Seeley says.
The portion of the working population that considers it acceptable to deny LGBT staff roles where they meet customers