One in 10 Chinese bankers won't work with gay and lesbian colleagues

HSBC survey reveals some fixed attitudes, but first LGBT workplace summit brings finance groups together to discuss discrimination

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 3:26am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 9:04am

Ten per cent of Chinese bank staff are unwilling to work with gay and lesbian colleagues, compared with total acceptance among their expatriate counterparts, an unofficial HSBC internal poll has found.

The bank's Hong Kong chief executive says it is only right to accept the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community at the business level, regardless of religious opposition.

"Definitely the sexual minorities in Hong Kong are still facing a certain level of discrimination, particularly in the workplace," Anita Fung Yuen-mei, HSBC's first female CEO for Hong Kong, said yesterday.

Creating a workplace that keeps LGBT staff engaged "is definitely the right thing to do … before we talk about whether it's going to make the organisation more profitable and able to generate more business", she said.

Fung made her call at Asia's first LGBT workplace summit, hosted locally by Barclays, where her bank joined 18 other financial services companies to share their thoughts on hiring and working with sexual minorities.

In the survey, HSBC staff pollsters found that almost all 700 staff members were aware of the term "LGBT".

But 10 per cent were "unsure if they are willing to work with LGBT", without saying why.

About 500 of the respondents were Chinese, mainly Hongkongers, while none of the 100 non-Chinese polled expressed such unwillingness, Fung said.

Robert Morrice, the Asia-Pacific chairman of Barclays, said the company had mentoring programmes to educate staff about LGBT communities so as to raise awareness. But, he noted, "we have to be culturally sensitive in the [Asian] region".

Former banker Todd Sears said two regional banks that had strong businesses in Hong Kong and Singapore did not reply to his invitation to join the event.

"That is a little bit disappointing," said Sears, who founded Wall Street LGBT organisation Out on the Street.

"Regional culture has something to do with it. Surveys show that family and culture are two single biggest obstacles to LGBT inclusion and people coming out. With a client base in Asia, there's a fear for those organisations that there'll be a backlash."

He also criticised the lack of gay marriage in Hong Kong, which he said was contrary to business interests because of foreign talents' reluctance to bring spouses if they took a job here.

Opposition to gay marriage grew over the past year, according to a survey commissioned by Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan and held by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme last week.

Some 43 per cent of the 502 respondents said no to civil union, up from 39 per cent a year ago. But 33.3 per cent agreed, up slightly from 32.7 per cent.

Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission, recently called for Hong Kong to introduce civil unions.