Private companies aim to remove LGBT barriers in Asia

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In many parts of the world private companies are helping to break open social issues. Asia is no different. This month AirAsia sponsored the Sydney Mardi Gras celebration in what was the first official sponsoring of any Asian company for a gay related event. 

429Magazine sat down with Program Manager Kevin Burns of Community Business to look at the changing make-up of business and its LGBT relationship. 

Community Business is a non-profit agency whose mission is to “lead, inspire and support businesses that help to improve the lives of peoples and communities across the globe.”  

429Magazine: How do you think Asia’s private sector is broadening social support for LGBT or other social issues?

Kevin Burns: Companies play a critical role in creating open and safe work environments for LGBT employees and clients, as well as bring about greater acceptance of Asia’s LGBT community.

429Mag: What are the reasons for companies to help the LGBT community garner social acceptance?

Burns: Well there are significant business reasons to do so. Obviously, the LGBT market represents a significant business opportunity. LGBT spending power is well recognized in western countries and the concept is catching on in Asia. Moreover companies should also consider the impact their workplace culture has on productivity, performance and attracting and retaining top talent. Studies around the world have shown that non-inclusive workplaces have a negative effect on productivity and result in higher turnover.

429Mag: What kind of businesses has already embraced the LGBT marketplace?

Burns: Several multinational companies and some large local companies are leading the way in Asia. Financial Partners, an investments broker in Hong Kong, has launched ‘LGBT Wealth’ in Hong Kong which provides specialist financial services for the LGBT community among others. 

429Mag: What kind of impact do you think companies can have on the social realities of people?

Burns: Companies can play a critical role in creating open and safe work environments for LGBT employees and clients as well as bring about greater acceptance of the LGBT community in society. My organization (Community Business) has published Resource Guides for Employers in Hong Kong and India in 2010 and 2012 respectively, and we will be launching a resource guide for employers in China in September of 2013.

In addition to setting out the business case and local context in these countries, the Resource Guides provides 18 recommendations (within 8 categories). These recommendations range from providing inclusive benefits for LGBT employees and same-sex partners to being a visible role model for LGBT workplace equality in Asia. 

429Magazine: Have there been other good examples of private companies trying to open markets through challenging social norms?

Burns: There are many examples of private companies supporting local inclusion efforts. Barclays and Goldman Sachs have sponsored an online resource aim at helping companies in Asia create more inclusive workplaces. In Hong Kong, the LGBT Inter-Bank Network has marched in the annual LGBT Pride Parade for many years. The companies hold a joint banner with their company logos and wear their company T-shirt while they walk.

IBM sponsors many local initiatives, including an annual diversity and inclusion conference in Beijing organized by local NGO Aibai. In 2012 Barclays and Nomura both sponsored Kashish, Mumbai’s LGBT film festival. In 2012 Google and Barclays sponsored the Pink Dot rally in Singapore. And many more… 

429Magazine: Any last comments?

Burns: Community Business continues to raise awareness of LGBT inclusion as a business issue to challenge assumptions and encourage more open dialogue and work within corporations. Several multinational companies and some large local companies are leading the way in opening the LGBT market, but more needs to be done.

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