LGBT community offers access to wider talent pool, says HSBC chief

Recognizing and respecting the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is good for business, said speakers at the recent “Out on the Street” summit in Hong Kong, hosted by HSBC.

“Embracing diversity is simply good for business. The financial sector can play a leadership role in diversity,” said HSBC Holdings group chief executive Stuart Gulliver. “Why limit access to talent because of prejudice? It makes no sense. I want my colleagues to be themselves at work.”

Gulliver warned against the trap of managers tending to hire people like themselves. He pointed out HSBC UK chief executive Antonio Simoes is gay and manages 50,000 people.

“When Antonio was talking to people, they assume his partner is female. I know his boyfriend,” Gulliver remarked.

HSBC supports gay colleagues in territories where same-sex relationships are illegal or culturally unacceptable, as long as the bank does not break any local laws in providing such support, Gulliver said. “If a colleague does not want to transfer to a certain country, we must not do so, but it should not damage his career for being seen to be difficult.”

Previously, HSBC’s job application forms asked candidates whether they were male or female, but recently, the bank’s job application forms have broadened gender to four categories; male, female, androgynous or prefer not to answer.

In October Bloomberg Businessweek magazine published an article by Apple chief executive Tim Cook, where he publicly disclosed for the first time he was gay. Cook is the first openly gay chief executive of a Fortune 500 company, said Taran Khera, Bloomberg’s head of core product sales for Hong Kong, Macau, Korea and Taiwan.

Diversity is important for Bloomberg, a US-based news company with more than 15,500 employees worldwide, because it spurs innovation, said Khera. He recalled interviewing a South Korean job candidate who could not get a job in his country because of his openness about his homosexuality.

“We hired him. He’s talented,” said Khera.

“We give health benefits to people in same-sex marriages. We are supporters of Pink Dot in Singapore,” Khera added.

Pink Dot is non-profit LGBT advocacy group in Singapore, where homosexual acts between men is a crime punishable by jail, though the law is not enforced.

“Anti-gay legislation is bad for business. How do you create a financial centre when you can’t even bring your legally married [gay] spouse into a country? How can you do business when you’re missing talent?” said Todd Sears, the founder of Out Leadership, a US LGBT advocacy group.

LGBT employees are happier and more productive when they come out about their sexual orientation, said Sears, a former banker.

“From a bottom-line perspective, you’re better off when your employees are out. Why do you want people to be inefficient in your organisation? It’s a simple business equation,” Sears added.

Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Group, said: “We want to service every kind of person. You’ll do a lot more business [that way].”

Lan Kwai Fong, the popular entertainment district in Central, hosted Hong Kong’s first gay parade in 2005. Zeman pointed out that about 35 years ago there was a gay club in Lan Kwai Fong called Disco Disco, which was often raided by police at the time. “I see that as wrong,” he said.

“Usually, companies that have an open mind have great products.”

Thomson Reuters is providing services to the LGBT market, said James Mirfin, Thomson Reuters managing director. For instance, its FindLaw online service enables customers to search laws on sexual orientation discrimination.

HSBC is also looking at offering insurance products for LGBT parents and their children, according to Gulliver.

On the other hand, mainland China is a long way from accepting LGBT employees into the mainstream workforce, said HSBC China president Helen Wong. “In China, LGBT issues are not often brought up, even among multinationals,” she said.

In a recent survey on the mainland, 90 per cent of respondents declared they were straight, while a significant fraction of the remainder did not answer the question whether they were gay, Wong said.

Zeman added: “I accept people for who they are. Just treat people with respect. If you respect your staff, the world will be a better place. Do unto others as you would have them do unto yourselves.”