BEIJING — In China, questions over how to treat workers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) has always been controversial.
LGBT people in China are referred to as tong-zhi, which literally means “comrade.” Today’s Chinese entrepreneurs need to look at the issue from a new perspective. That is, how to be more open-minded in accepting these employees and how to create a non-discriminatory environment for them.
Earlier this month, during a corporate multiculturalism forum held in Beijing, a Hong Kong non-profit NGO called Community Business released an employers’ resource guide explaining how to meet the needs of these workers — and the commercial rationale for doing so.
Citing demographic data, the guide notes that between 5% and 10% of people in any working population are likely to belong to the so-called comrade community. Therefore, it is estimated that China is probably home to between 67 and 135 million LGBT people.
The Aibai Culture and Education Center (ACEC), a Chinese NGO founded in 1999, offers the LGBT community an online Q & A service that offers cultural, educational, legal, artistic and health-related information services. In its survey of more than 2,000 participants, over 45% of respondents said that they waste massive amounts of energy concealing their sexual identity.
The same survey showed that only 6.3% of working LGBT Chinese people are totally open about their sexual orientation, while 47.6% of them said that they “haven’t come out of the closet.”
In reviewing corporate social responsibility reports of more than 1,000 Chinese companies, the Aibai center also discovered that only five of them had corporate equality policies regarding their workers’ sexuality. These companies include large corporations such as Sinopec, the major Beijing-based petroleum company, and multinationals such as Intel.
“Hiding sexual orientation in the working place will reduce people’s productivity by 30%,” according to another survey conducted by the UK lesbian, gay and transsexual rights charity Stonewall.
The guide Community Business issues essentially says that it’s critical that businesses create diverse and inclusive working environments for all of their employees, and treating LGBT people with equality is an important part of this.
Certain multinational corporations have led the way in this regard. Cai Jiacong, executive director of the Human Capital Management Department at Goldman Sachs, says that the company provides insurance policies for workers with same-sex partners. And in 2006, it developed an LGBT employee network in Asia to facilitate communication and mutual support among its employees.
As the guide points out, equality policies for LGBT workers is usually considered part of a corporation’s social duties. And what they find is that creating an inclusive and caring working environment is beneficial not only for their workers but also for safeguarding their good corporate reputations.