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Interview: Sexuality studies expert Dr Suen Yiu-tung on LGB-friendly Hong Kong businesses

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New research has just been published about how Hongkongers perceive LGBTI-friendly business organisations. Nik Addams talks to the man behind the research, Dr Suen Yiu-tung, about an increasingly inclusive Hong Kong

As an international city, Hong Kong is not immune to global trends. And while classifying equality, an idea essential to the social contract, as a trend might undersell its importance, the figures speak for themselves. As well as a steady increase in the number of countries legalising same-sex marriages and unions, an increasing number of business organisations in the US and in Europe are also committed to stamping out discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Such commitment in the business sector is catching on in Hong Kong, too, with a number of local and international companies supporting LGB equality by providing benefits for same-sex partners or sponsoring community events such as Pink Dot, Pink Season and Hong Kong Pride. 

To that end, associate professor Dr Suen Yiu-tung, founding director of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s sexualities research programme and associate director of the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies’ Gender Research Centre, has just published a groundbreaking study about Hongkongers’ perceptions – both in and outside of the LGBTI community – on gay-friendly businesses. We speak to Dr Suen about his study, its results and its implications for Hong Kong’s ongoing march to equality.

Why is this an important review to undertake in Hong Kong right now?
In Hong Kong, more and more business organizations are also supporting LGB equality. However, some other businesses remain reluctant to take these steps. Some business organisations claim that Asian and Chinese ‘cultures’ are different, and worry that if they speak up too strongly on LGB issues, there may be ‘backlash’ against them because they may be perceived negatively by the general public who are somehow assumed to be necessarily more conservative.

What are some of the conclusions that were reached, and what do they tell us about changing attitudes in Hong Kong?
The findings suggest that the claim that an LGB-friendly organisation would receive overwhelming opposition from the Hong Kong general public is empirically ungrounded. About 50 percent of the public surveyed said a business organisation’s stance on LGB issues would not affect their view of it, whereas another quarter of the Hong Kong public surveyed see an LGB-friendly business organisation positively. Also, a net gain of public positive image can even be observed for a business organization that provides benefits to same-sex partners and openly supports anti-discrimination ordinance on the ground of sexual orientation. Companies might not need to fear such a strong public backlash as they may have imaged for supporting equal rights for LGB people. Moreover, as being an LGB-friendly business organisation would receive differential responses from some members of the public, it’s important to understand from whom the support would be gained and lost. It was found that the younger and higher educated people among the public – that is, also those who are more likely to hold more spending power – are more supportive of LGB-friendly organisations.

Were there any outcomes that surprised you?
Most local businesses, unlike multi-national corporations, have so far not yet engaged LGB inclusion as part of their strategy, often for fear of ‘backlash’ or public opposition. To me, the findings show that Hong Kong people are not as negative towards LGB-friendly business organisations as may have been imagined. Hopefully, this ‘fear factor’ amongst the local businesses to engage LGB diversity can be driven away.

How can a business benefit from a more inclusive diversity policy, and how can a business advance their policy of equality?
In summary, the study suggests that in Hong Kong, business organisations which support LGB rights might gain vast support from LGB people, without losing as much support from the general public as might be imagined. It’s particularly noteworthy that more than 80 percent and 70 percent of the LGB respondents are more likely to work and shop in LGB-friendly companies. The business may even open up a niche market that it could not reach before.

There are many aspects that a business can consider for LGB-friendliness. Internally, the business can provide benefits to same-sex couples, have clear guidelines and policies against discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, and set up LGB social networks as well as ally programmes. Externally, a business can leverage its influence with the different stakeholders, such as suppliers and contractors that they work with, to make sure they too are LGB-friendly. Some businesses may even consider making a clear public stance on certain public policies and legislations, such as to support legislation against discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, to foster a larger social environment that is LGB-friendly. Businesses in Hong Kong that support LGB rights can be both fulfilling their corporate social responsibility on equality and diversity, and at the same time make great business sense.

Read the full results of the study at gender.cuhk.edu.hk

 

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