Workers out and about in Central on March 30. As a fairly homogenous society, it is too easy for Hong Kong to get caught up in a majoritarian mindset. Photo: Felix Wong
Ricky Chu Man-kin
Ricky Chu Man-kin

To keep talent, Hong Kong must become a truly inclusive, diverse society

  • Policy measures may lure the talented to the city but to get them to stay, Hong Kong must make people of diverse backgrounds feel welcome
  • It can start by bringing down the barriers for hidden talent in its small but growing ethnic minority community
It is hard to miss the areas of emphasis in Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu’s first policy address. Headings mentioning attracting enterprises and talent appeared early on, and there is no doubt of how seriously this issue is being addressed. The city has seen a brain drain, and stemming that outflow while bringing in new talent has become critical to rebuilding the economy and Hong Kong’s status as a thriving business centre.

As Hong Kong looks outwards, it is perhaps serendipitous that October is Global Diversity Awareness Month. As we compete against other economies in the region for talent from across the world, I cannot help but reflect on this month’s message on the critical importance of diversity and inclusion.

It is clear that diversity adds to the wealth of skills and creativity in Hong Kong. But we need to make sure the diversity that is brought in can thrive, by providing an inclusive and open environment.

Incidents such as food delivery riders from Hong Kong’s ethnic minority communities being subject to racially derogatory comments, as revealed in a study by Lingnan University released at the end of last month, or the recent episode at a university dormitory targeting students from mainland China, are all examples of prejudice against people from diverse backgrounds.
We, at the Equal Opportunities Commission, often come across instances of racial discrimination and a lack of cultural sensitivity in our work too. These may range from unfriendly service at retail outlets to an outright refusal to rent premises to someone on account of their race.
Differential treatment related to racial or cultural backgrounds in the workplace is also nothing new. More often though, it is the subtle acts of microaggression or cultural insensitivity that racial minorities face, whether at work or outside, that make them feel unwelcome.

Hong Kong must do more to build on the strength of its diversity

While policy measures and financial incentives may be successful in luring talent to the city, it is the retention of talent that could prove challenging, and which causes concern. Hong Kong still has some way to go before being truly racially inclusive. As a fairly homogenous society, it is easy for Hong Kong to get caught up in a majoritarian mindset. Further, a lack of natural interactions among people of different cultures, whether in the classroom, workplace or outside, results in biases not being addressed and becoming deep-seated.

It is important to inculcate a societal mindset that is culturally inclusive and open, so that people of diverse backgrounds can feel welcome. Education from a young age, supported by strong public messaging, is necessary to help create a society that is accepting and respectful of differences.

As diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers famously said: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” While we work on the number of talented people we can attract to the city, we also need to pay equal attention to the intangible element of inclusion. For anyone to contribute productively, it is the intangible factors which become critical. How welcome do they feel? What is their experience when they shop or commute? Do they feel “othered”?


Stop being racist, Hong Kong: include foreign domestic workers in the consumption voucher scheme

Stop being racist, Hong Kong: include foreign domestic workers in the consumption voucher scheme

These are not simply “nice-to-haves”. They may well be the key differentiator as Hong Kong competes with other regions for top talent.

As it rolls out the welcome mat for overseas talent, it must also do better at bringing down barriers for the hidden talent at home who have not been able to realise their full potential – namely, its small, young and growing ethnic minority community. There is an opportunity here and one that would be inexpedient for Hong Kong to overlook in this economic climate.

Clearly, it takes time for mindsets to change and policy to achieve goals. However, the gains would be long-term. Hong Kong needs to position itself as an attractive place to live and work in. This has become a business and economic imperative. Let us use this opportunity to invest in building a society that values differences and become a world city in the truest sense.

Ricky Chu Man-kin is chairperson of the Hong Kong Equal Opportunities Commission