Attitudes towards the LGBT community in the finance sector in Hong Kong
Written by Philip Howell-Williams on October 03, 2014.
Having spoken with a number of professionals who hold prominent positions within large financial houses and who are also involved in the LGBT community, I have come up with some interesting findings with regard to attitudes towards this community within the finance sector.
While Hong Kong is moving in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. The general attitude of employees within large corporate institutions varies depending on their position within the company. While LGBT executives are often expats from countries that have been focusing upon diversity for years and are comfortable with their identities, lower level staff, for example those working in the sales teams at branch level or in call centres, are still very afraid to let colleagues know who they really are. Location plays a part too. In central Hong Kong, where the expat community is largely based, diversity is much more widely accepted than in local areas such as Kowloon.
In Hong Kong family plays a predominant role within society and while being gay is not seen as a crime, it is neither spoken about nor accepted. While LGBT members within the expat community generally feel free to express themselves, the number of local citizens taking part in events such as pride marches is far smaller. This reticence inevitably carries over into the workplace, although financial companies in Hong Kong are working together to try and create a more inclusive environment, a fact which makes the financial sector one of the more progressive industries to work in.
Many of the international financial houses are trying to address the problems faced by the LGBT community with the introduction of a number of initiatives to overcome them. While all of the large banks in the UK have LGBT communities and support groups which actively get involved in marches and other equality events, that has not been the culture here in Hong Kong but this is slowly changing. It has taken over three years or more for many large companies to put together LGBT support groups. One of the main challenges these groups face is finding ways to communicate with the people who would benefit from the resource the most.
That said, the banks are also reluctant to put themselves on the line. One executive I spoke to was of the opinion that if the financial crisis had not happened in such a dramatic fashion, diversity would have moved forward a lot more. Financial culture and large banking corporations were seen as the culprits who caused the global financial crisis of 2008 and these institutions subsequently became public enemy number one. They are now attempting to rebuild their reputations in the public domain and as a result are very wary of rocking the boat in a country where the LGBT community are ignored, or worse. Regulatory bodies also have a large influence over what the banks are prepared to do.
In 2013 HSBC broke with tradition and lit up its iconic Norman Foster-designed Hong Kong headquarters with a rainbow to coincide with the company’s involvement in Out in the Street, an initiative organised to bring senior LGBT leaders from major financial services firms together to drive change and strategy around issues that are key both to LGBT equality and to capturing marketplace opportunity. This was a first for the country and showed real progression. Unfortunately the event was marred by accusations directed towards one executive as he was making a presentation about inclusion that the banks were trying to include a community that is essentially illegal.
One of the main challenges for financial companies is figuring out how they can market themselves to the LGBT community without alienating other members of society with opposing views and driving away their core business. Currently most financial institutions are busy trying to get their own houses in order with their LGBT staff before they reach out to others.
Introducing changes to financial regulations in Hong Kong takes a long time and many of the large finance houses are only just starting to realise that the products they offer are often outdated, offensive in terminology and inflexible for members of the LGBT community. Companies are starting to address these problems but it could be years before they actually make suitable products available to the public. As it stands there are currently no products on the market that are specifically directed at the LGBT community. We all hope that this hole will be filled soon and that when that happens it can be replicated across the market as a whole.
At Infinity Financial Solutions, we are in the first instance undertaking research to find out what the concerns of the LGBT community are, with a view to being able to offer products which address them. Please get in touch today to find out ways that I can help you.