At a packed session in Hong Kong’s China Club on 17 May, the CSR NGO Community Business and Barclays jointly released their Hong Kong LGBT Climate Study 2011-12. This is the first statistically reliable survey published on Hong Kong’s attitudes to sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace, and the results had been keenly awaited since the survey period (November 2011 to February 2012) had closed.
The study is very detailed and will provide much meat over the next few years for activists and policy makers to pick over. Its major findings do not run counter to common experience and intuition, but do hold some surprises. It had been conceived some years ago when Community Business’s founder and Director, Shalini Mahtani MBE, and Barclay’s Regional Head of Spectrum (the Bank’s diversity network), Richard Seeley, were mulling over what should be done. They wanted to build on the campaign to create inclusive workplaces for LGBT employees Community Business launched in 2010 in conjunction with IBM and Goldman Sachs. This had been making steady if quiet progress over the intervening two years in fostering (mostly international) business diversity organisations and policies in Hong Kong, but what became clear to the pair was that there was no data on which to base a view of the underlying current situation and which would enable them to make plans. So that clearly had to be the next step. Barclays stumped up the cash and Community Business hired professionals to do the survey, Hong Kong University’s Public Opinion Programme (HKUPOP).
Over four months at the turn of the year, HKUPOP conducted two surveys. Firstly, a representative survey of the working population was conducted by random telephone interviews. 1,002 respondents were included, with demographics to reflect the community as far as possible; 54% male, 46% female; 98% Chinese, 2% foreign; age ranges split from 18 to the over 60s; employers 40% local Chinese, 17% international, 17% government and public sector, etc. Simultaneously, a focus survey of LGBT employees currently working or seeking employment in Hong Kong was conducted by anonymous online survey. 626 respondents were included, with demographics: 56% male, 44% female; 87% Chinese, 13% foreign; of LGB respondents 73% lesbian or gay, 27% bisexual; 12% of respondents being transgender; ages and employer types split similarly to the first survey.
At the launch event, joint study author Amanda Yik, Senior Project Manager of Community Business, presented some of the more striking findings. These included a good deal of acceptance of LGBT employees across Hong Kong, with up to 58% of Hong Kong working people stating that they were ‘accepting’ or ‘somewhat accepting’ of LGBT individuals. Even better, 85% of the working respondents said there was need for greater inclusiveness in Hong Kong and 80% said that companies should take steps to treat their LGBT employees fairly. These figures are inconsistent with other figures revealed by the surveys, but then one should not, perhaps, expect total consistency in popular views. For instance, a full 22% stated that they were ‘not accepting’ of LGB individuals and even more, 25%, that they did not accept transgender individuals. There is still, it is clear, a hard core untouched by change.
This could be due to the lack of contact that many have had with people they realise are LGBT. 57% of the working respondents claimed not to know anyone LGBT, and of those who did know someone, 70% said they had never talked about the subject of sexual orientation and gender identity with that person. 77% did not understand the term ‘transgender’. It is clear from this that changing these attitudes has to involve greater familiarity, which implies greater openness by LGBT individuals. This, as we know, is not a simple or easy proposition in the gold fish bowl that is Hong Kong. It is not helped by the fact that 27% of the working respondents believed that ‘LGB individuals should keep their sexual orientation to themselves’.
The LGBT employee’s dilemma here shows up in the figures for LGBT responses. Discrimination is felt, and widely, but employees don’t come out to change the situation because of fear for their jobs and careers. 60% of respondents said they were not out to any colleague at work, 71% were not out to their HR department and 74% were not out to their clients. 13% reported cases of direct discrimination against them, with another 34% suspecting that it had occurred. 77% said they had been treated with less respect than others, 59% had been verbally abused or mocked, 40% said their jobs had been made deliberately harder for them and 67% had heard anti-LGBT jokes or comments.
This situation has a direct feedback into effectiveness at work, something Richard Seeley emphasised as the reason his firm was interested in diversity. Barclays employs around 150,000 employees worldwide, an estimated 15,000 of them could be LGBT. Using the generally accepted academic figure of a 30% reduction in performance for closeted LGBT employees, Barclays are clear that they need diversity policies to protect their LGBT employees, for if they did not, they would in effect be employing the equivalent of 4,500 employees to do nothing at all. Diversity is clearly money driven, not just a matter of justice.
The Community Business survey neatly illustrates this decline in productivity amongst those not out at work. 85% of respondents said that a non-inclusive workplace had had a negative impact upon them. 71% had been forced to lie about their private life, 24% frequently. 54% said that they found it hard to build authentic relationships with colleagues. 53% reported being exhausted, depressed and stressed by having to pretend they were someone they were not. 51% said they had wasted energy worrying about being outed. 26% said they had stayed at home because of a non-inclusive work environment. The rating out of 10 given by LGBT employees to Hong Kong companies for their efforts to create an inclusive workplace was a derisory 2.68. 35% of respondents stated that their companies were doing nothing at all.
A panel of four chaired by Shalini Mahtani discussed these and many related issues at the launch event; members were Richard Seeley; Mr Lam Woon Kwong GBS JP, Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC); Dr Denise Tse-Shang Tang, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at HKU and a prominent Hong Kong lesbian activist; and Lisa Lam, lesbian and Assistant General Counsel, Asia Pacific, The Western Union Company. Lisa Lam stressed the harmful effects in the workplace of invisible and silent discrimination and said that it was her conclusion from 15 years’ experience that even weak legislation deterred this. Denise Tang agreed, saying that it was the lack of any institutional support in Hong Kong which made people afraid to come out. There was a need for Government action to start the virtuous circle of coming out, greater familiarity and slowly growing acceptance.
The EOC Chairperson voiced his strong support for a bill against discrimination. He said that he was actively lobbying for this, as until his organisation was given statutory powers, it was helpless to intervene. He was unsure of the views of the next Hong Kong administration (that of incoming Chief Executive CY Leung) but would continue to lobby for a bill. A way had to be found, he believed, to show the Government that it was in Hong Kong’s interests to override the vocal opposition of the powerful, rich but nevertheless small minority of opponents to protection for LGBT people.
The key note speech at the launch was given by Kevin Jennings, founder of the American Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), who spoke of LGBT people’s need to find allies in the rest of the community and of the responsibility of those allies to stand up. GLSEN is currently investigating assisting in Hong Kong’s anti-bullying projects, an area to which they have provided considerable funding and policy impetus in the States. Generation Y was undoubtedly a force for change, Jennings believed, an idea supported by the results of the survey, which found that the young were significantly more accepting than older people. In the age bracket 18-35, for instance, 70% of working respondents were ‘very’ or ‘generally’ accepting of LGBT individuals, as opposed to only 42% of those aged 56 or above.
Deep within the survey report there were some noteworthy findings not discussed at the launch. Educational achievement, it seems, is a fair predictor of tolerance. 65% of those with tertiary education were ‘very’ or ‘generally’ accepting of LGBT individuals, as against 39% of those with only primary education. Strangely, Roman Catholic respondents proved more accepting than Buddhists (67% to 62%), a statistic that might give the Catholic hierarchy in Hong Kong some pause for thought. Unsurprisingly, of religious groups it was the Protestant that was found the least accepting (34%).
Damningly, the survey found that:
Overall, LGBT employees who are self-employed or work in the Government/public sector seem to be more seriously affected by a non-inclusive working environment.
So not only is the Hong Kong Government not persuading the private sector to adopt its current voluntary Code of Practice against Discrimination in Employment on the Ground of Sexual Orientation but it is doing an abysmally bad job of implementing that Code inside its own departments. This, of course, will not surprise those of us who have become inured to the horror stories of homophobia related by teachers from state schools or Government social workers. The Government cannot lead Hong Kong society as it is right at the back of the pack in implementing enlightened policies, and the sad fact is that this is attributable to the Christians which riddle its ranks and the spineless way its functionaries refuse to confront the strident religious bigots who flood their in trays and block their phones.
So, where to now? Community Business plans a published index of Hong Kong companies with best diversity practices. This will create a competition for excellence and bring the subject into the public eye. It will also, they hope, bring the subject into the purview of those Hong Kong companies that have yet to react to what their international competitors are doing. Maybe too, if the index puts the Hong Kong Government at the bottom of the list, the loss of face that will entail might just persuade a few civil servants to mend their ways.
Hong Kong Government’s Code of Practice against Discrimination on the Ground of Sexual Orientation (in both Chinees and English) can be obtained from the Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Unit (GISOU), Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, te: 2810 3295, email: email@example.com.