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HR Feature: Give diversity a hand

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Diversity is a business imperative, but this often doesn’t include fostering a welcoming culture for LGBT employees. We shine a spotlight on those who nurture their diverse staff. 

Despite being a melting pot of ethnicities, religions, cultures and work ethic, many Singaporean businesses are still struggling to balance the need for equality with the controversy that surrounds the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Much like other diversity issues – such as gender or harmonising a workplace culture filled with employees harbouring differing religious beliefs – the tolerance of employees’ sexual preferences has been proven to have a positive effect on recruitment efforts, retention rates and overall favourable employer branding worldwide.

But unlike these issues, LGBT’s inclusion in the workplace isn’t something so openly talked about in corporate Southeast Asia.

Despite events such as Pink Dot (Singapore’s own annual gay pride parade) making its mark in Singapore to get the message of equality across, many businesses are just not quite there yet.

From an outside perspective, it is understandable why. The Penal Code 377A, legislation that criminalises sexual acts between two consenting male adults, has been so entrenched in Singaporean culture that most are aware the law stipulates up to two years in jail for flouting the rules.

Yet, with an ever-expanding global mindset and understanding that equality extends to sexual preference, the law does not reflect many employers’ beliefs on the matter.

“To remain competitive, multinational corporations and local enterprises benefit from addressing different cultures, languages, geographic origins and professions in their business strategy,” says Tracey Ho, IBM Workforce Diversity Leader in APAC.

“Diversity is no longer about race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or numbers. It’s about broadening the definition and objectives to ensure we create a globally sensitive corporate culture that fosters and leverages diversity of thought and relationships,” Tony Tenicela, global leader of workforce diversity and LGBT markets at IBM, says.

Coming out

A study by the Corporate Leadership Council found nearly 80% of executives globally expect a greater focus on leveraging diversity for business goals over the next three years.

The same study also found companies with high inclusion and diversity programmes reported discretionary effort increased 1.12 times, while employees’ intention to stay jumped 1.19 times. Team collaboration and team commitment also increased by 1.57 times and 1.42 times respectively, for companies with strong diversity and inclusion programmes.

IBM has been striving to provide an inclusive workplace for employees since the mid-20th century, and in the 1990s it placed a strong focus on “eliminating barriers and understanding regional constituencies and differences between the constituencies”.

“As a result of the Council’s work with our HR teams, IBM now offers Domestic Partner Benefits for LGBT employees in several markets worldwide,” Tenicela says.

While IBM’s stance may seem extremely forward within Singapore, it isn’t the only company which strives to be a fair employer. One of Deutsche Bank Singapore’s employee resource groups is dbPride, a support system for LGBT employees.

Jason Ortiz, the bank’s commodities business manager and regional chairperson for dbPride, says it is important companies offer these sorts of inclusive groups because it creates a comfortable workplace for LGBT to feel wanted and part of the organisation.

DbPride has been present in APAC for about three years, Ortiz says, adding it first started as an online organisation. As an active member of dbPride New York before relocating to Singapore two years ago, he is fully aware of the need for more such groups in countries such as Singapore, but admits it took a while for it to gain a foothold in Asia.

“In Singapore, it’s very conservative regarding sexual orientation,” he says. “I can’t say that’s in direct correlation to the banking world, but I will tell you that when I came out here, I was very worried about being a gay individual.”

Human Resources magazine and the HR Bulletin daily email newsletter:
Asia's only regional HR print and digital media brand.
Register for your FREE subscription now »

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