New Chapter for Singapore Companies: Embracing LGBTQ Diversity

Google had earlier this month launched the Legalise Love campaign “to ensure that all of our employees have the same inclusive experience outside of the office as they do at work.” It was reported that the campaign was launched with campaign partners, Citibank and Ernst & Young. The Campaign was also reported as being initially launched in Singapore and Poland.

However, on Citibank and Ernst & Young’s websites in Singapore, I wasn’t able to find any information about their viewpoints towards LGBTQ issues.

Ernst & Young, however, does discuss the issue of diversity on their website.

In describing the People and Culture on their About page, Ernst & Young had stated:

As our clients become more global and expand into new markets, they expect us to be equally diverse.

Diverse teams are also proven to stimulate innovation and new ways of problem solving. But they need an inclusive culture to help them function at their best.

Inclusiveness is all about making the diverse mix work. It’s about equity and opportunity – making sure that differences are celebrated so that talented people from any background can rise to the top, and ensuring that opportunities to develop and advance are available for all from day one.

In an article, ‘Strengthen your management talent‘, Ernst & Young had also explained:

Diversity and inclusiveness initiatives become sources of real advantage when perceived and managed as such, rather than merely as good intentions.

As quoted in our recent study The phoenix effect, academic research, led by Professor Scott Page at the University of Michigan, has established that diverse groups tend to outperform homogeneous groups, even if the members of the latter group are more capable.

“Innovation provides the seeds for economic growth, and for that innovation to happen depends as much on collective difference as on aggregate ability,” says Page. “If people think alike, then no matter how smart they are, they will most likely get stuck at the same locally optimal solutions. Finding new and better solutions — innovating — requires thinking differently. That’s why diversity powers innovation.”

In international news, Citibank Chief Diversity Officer Collin Burton had started a petition, together with Barclays to “condem Uganda’s ‘Kill the Gays’ bill.

Coincidentally, Barclays had, with Google, also recently supported Singapore’s PinkDot campaign to celebrate the freedom to love, and on LGBTQ rights.

It was stated that the petition was started because:

Ugandan legislators have re-introduced the dangerous Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a proposed law that would criminalize homosexuality in the country with extreme penalties. Under this proposed law, LGBT people could be killed or sentenced to life in prison, solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As the bill’s author, David Bahati, has said, he believes the government of Uganda should “kill every last gay person.”

Citibank and Barclays had also described their global efforts in supporting LGBTQ rights:

Citibank and Barclays are also well known for supporting their LGBT employees and protecting their employees and customers from anti-gay discrimination. Citibank is a huge supporter of LGBT groups in the United States, and has received a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. And just last week, Barclays was named the most LGBT-friendly company in all of Scotland, and regularly is ranked as one of the best companies for LGBT people to work for in the world.

Indeed, in Stonewall Top 100 Employers 2012 Index, Barclays was ranked the 3rd most gay-friendly workplace. And in fact, Ernst & Young was ranked the top employer.

Liz Bingham, Managing Partner for People UK & Ireland, of Ernst & Young, had said:

To say we are thrilled and proud to be named Stonewall’s Employer of the Year 2012 is truly an understatement. We believe that a strong commitment to diversity and inclusiveness is not only important for our people, but is also a business imperative in what is an increasingly competitive and interconnected world.’

Ernst & Young’s progress towards an equal workplace environment was through an implementation of several “progressive initiatives“:

(One of) which include the firm’s leading role in the development of the concept of inclusive leadership, sponsorship of National Student Pride, engagement with clients about sexual orientation as a workplace issue, and strong leadership driven from the top.

In addition to being recognised as a leading employer, Ernst & Young’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender network, EYGLES, was again named as one of Stonewall’s ‘Star Performer Network Groups’.

Stonewall had said that, “a gay-friendly approach will help them get and keep the best staff, avoid costly recruitment costs, improve their reputation, enhance business performance and slash the risk of being sued by disgruntled ex-employees.” It’s director of workplace, Colleen Humphrey, had also said:

Years of hard lobbying by Stonewall has secured vital legal protections for gay staff in Britain. But in over 80 countries it’s still illegal to be gay, and other countries don’t legally recognize civil partners or same-sex parents.

Thus if we were to also achieve the same level of equality in Singapore, it would be necessary to take a leaf out of Stonewall’s book and start advocating for a LGBTQ-friendly or, at least, a diversified workplace environment among Singapore companies.

Some of the other commendable actions by Ernst & Young include “reimburs(ing) LGBTQ employees for the additional federal and state taxes they pay on same-sex domestic partners’ medical benefits in the US, making it the first Big Four accounting firm to offer this perk.”

James Turley, the Global Chairman & CEO of Ernst & Young, who is also a Board member of the Boy Scouts of America, had spoken up against a ban against gay scouts and leaders:

Ernst & Young is proud to have such a strong record in LGBT inclusiveness. As CEO, I know that having an inclusive culture produces the best results, is the right thing for our people and makes us a better organization. My experience has led me to believe that an inclusive environment is important throughout our society and I am proud to be a leader on this issue. I support the meaningful work of the Boy Scouts in preparing young people for adventure, leadership, learning and service, however the membership policy is not one I would personally endorse. As I have done in leading Ernst & Young to being a most inclusive organization, I intend to continue to work from within the BSA Board to actively encourage dialogue and sustainable progress.

It is indeed an exciting time around the world for LGBTQ rights as America and some countries in Europe look into legalising same sex marriages to join the 10 countries which already legalise same sex marriages and to more than 22 which have legal same sex unions or some rights of marriage.

Singapore is, however, still one of the 78 countries in the world which continue to criminalise gay sex. Most of the other countries are in Africa or the Middle East. It is legal in at least 113 countries for 2 consenting males to have sex.

It is heartening to know that there are at least 2 companies which are supportive of legal recognition of LGBTQ rights in Singapore – Google and Barclays.

Hopefully, that since Citibank and Ernst & Young are also partners to Google’s Legalise Love campaign, that they would start taking a more proactive role in Singapore to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ people in Singapore. Companies in Singapore can take on a more active role in supporting the welfare of their employees who are LGBTQ and the environment in Singapore is conducive for this to happen, precisely the reason why Google had wanted to launch the campaign in Singapore – as one of the two countries it would have acknowledged that legal LGBTQ rights can be achieved.

I hope that more companies will step forward to provide equal treatment and to take care of the welfare, safety and needs of their LGBTQ employees so that all their staff will be able to operate in an environment that they can be themselves in, and contribute to the diversity, innovation, and eventually, for the companies, higher profits, as research has shown in companies who embrace diversity.

I look forward to the day when my right to love someone I want to love, and marry him, becomes a reality in Singapore.

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