LGBTI inclusion in business: how Ogilvy is leading the way in Hong Kong
Written by Philip Howell-Williams on June 06, 2016.
As more economic studies show that the LGBTI community contributes a huge amount of money to global economics and more and more companies are realising the benefits that diversity and inclusion can offer, it is becoming increasingly commonplace for companies to set up internal LGBTI and Ally support groups. These groups support the staff within a company thus increasing productivity and staff retention and are also recognised externally as a best practice.
Recently I had the privilege of sitting down with Marion McDonald, who founded Ogilvy Pride Hong Kong, the new LGBTI and Ally network at global marketing and communications agency Ogilvy, to discuss the reasons behind its creation, how it has been received internally and how it will be developed in the future.
Ogilvy is well known worldwide as a company which actively promotes diversity in the workplace. Way back in 1968, the company’s founder, David Ogilvy, wrote ‘In recruitment and promotion, we are fanatical in our hatred for all forms of prejudice’. Ogilvy Pride embodies this open-minded attitude. It is the company’s global LGBTI network, set up three years ago with the aim of championing LGBTI inclusion in the workplace. It launched in the UK in June 2015 to great acclaim. Lord John Browne who wrote The Glass Closet – Why Coming Out Is Good Business was invited to talk to both staff and clients at a packed-out London launch event to a great reception.
The initiative very quickly widened its remit and Ogilvy Pride now also acts as a consultancy, helping brands to understand and tap into the LGBT market, which is estimated by the company to be worth $3trillion globally. The network allows Ogilvy employees to explore this huge commercial potential with their clients.
Having seen its success in other countries, Marion started working to create the Hong Kong network. It is a project which was inspired by her own personal experience of joining Ogilvy. She was impressed that when she was open in interviews about her wife, not only was this warmly accepted but she was offered home leave travel and company medical insurance for the both of them. This is far from the norm in Hong Kong which remains conservative, especially compared to the US.
Despite her own positive experience, Marion has witnessed a closeted colleague leave the company unsure of its LGBTI friendly policies, and believed that Ogilvy Hong Kong could do more to openly support its LGBTI employees. This is the raison d’être of the network. Marion wants to ensure that all Ogilvy staff know just how supportive the company is of them, and aims to create and foster an inclusive environment which will help Ogilvy to retain existing staff as well as attract new talent. While there are some LGBTI networks in Hong Kong these are mainly in larger financial and legal institutions rather than ad agencies, when they are often believed unnecessary.
Given that attitudes are less progressive in Hong Kong than in the States, Marion believes it will take longer to build up the network here. She spent six months developing the idea and objectives for Ogilvy Pride around staff satisfaction, drawing on the experience of Ogilvy Pride networks overseas. She thanks Jack Guest of HSBC and Tracy Harris of JP Morgan for their invaluable local network advice also. Marion’s motivation is equally to show international LGBTI staff that they would not experience any discrimination due to Hong Kong legislation, and lead by example for local staff that need the support the most. It is a sad fact that many LGBTI university leavers in Hong Kong go back into the closet when they start their career for fear of being sacked.
Local staff are often reluctant to get involved in a Pride network because of potential repercussions, not within Ogilvy itself, but for future job opportunities if their involvement is revealed. Hence the importance of internal discussion to show employees that they are being protected internally.
So far the network has been a great success. The company’s CEO spoke at the first meeting to a bigger than expected turnout and outlined why he believes LGBTI employees are such an important resource for Ogilvy. Marion believes that the way forward is to reach middle management who often didn’t start their careers in an LGBTI friendly environment, offering education on best practice to help them lead more inclusive and therefore creative and productive teams. The network is about to hold its second event with external speakers on the same sex marriage debate in HK with the common aim of promoting inclusion on a national level.
Marion strongly believes that companies that can attract, nurture and retain LGBT talent to advance their business aims will draw ahead of their rivals in a tough labour market like Hong Kong that attracts a lot of international talent. To this aim she hopes to expand the network and its influence on the HK business climate. I would like to congratulate Marion and her team for really making a difference to LGBTI employees at Oglivy. I wish them all the success with their network. If you would like more information about resources available for your company then please contact me.