The best way to make your office more LGBT inclusive

By Catherine W. Ng | Monday, 29 Oct 2018

What are the benefits for organizations to be LGBTQ-friendly? Are there costs involved in being supportive of sexual minorities at work? Many organisations believe, for example, that offering partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees increases their operational costs, and that workers will abuse these benefits. Is this a legitimate business concern?

QT and SS entered into same-sex civil union in Britain in 2011. When SS moved to Hong Kong to work, the Immigration Department denied QT a dependent visa. After a prolonged court battle, in July this year, the Court of Final Appeal ruled against the Immigration Department. However, in June in the Court of Appeal, local immigration officer Leung Chun-kwong lost his case for spousal benefits for his partner Scott Adams, whom he married in New Zealand in 2014. 

For the time being, the burden of proof for same-sex couples exceeds that for heterosexual couples at work. Without a marriage certificate, or when an overseas marriage is not recognised, a gay couple needs to submit more documentation (such as joint bank accounts and properties) to their work organisations to prove their ‘marital’ status in order to claim partner benefits. They need to show that they are in a long-term, committed relationship in which the partners live together and share financial responsibilities.

The demanding of burden of proof also means that when a same-sex relationship ends, it is harder for the workers to construct a case to continue to claim partner benefits. Hence, it is actually more difficult to abuse same-sex spousal benefits.

Furthermore, same-sex couples are less likely than heterosexual couples to be parents, and therefore, they are less likely to incur costs associated with pregnancy, childbirth, and dependent benefits on their employers.

Create an inclusive culture

With the prevailing culture in Hong Kong, it is more likely that gay and lesbian employees hide their sexual orientation for fear of stigmatisation and discrimination than they coming out for the purpose of claiming partner and dependent benefits.

Disclosing one’s sexual orientation is a private matter and often a difficult decision. Vicky Beeching, an English Christian rock singer, at 35 and the top of her music career, decided to disclose to her family, her church and the public that she is gay. Her autobiography Undivided offers an account of a similar dilemma faced by sexual minorities in all types of workplaces.

For many LGBTQs, not being able to answer simple questions like “how’s your weekend” feels disingenuous. Having to make up stories about fictitious boyfriends or girlfriends all the time is tiring. Not being able to bring partner to staff outings and annual dinners is frustrating. When he or she would like to apply for leave to take care of his or her partner, they have to lie again. Having to be extra vigilant and careful not to let slip anything about their significant half is stressful and dysfunctional. This might eventually lead them to leave their work organizations.

From the employer’s point of view, it might consider having coming out coaches to support those who would like to be open about their sexual orientation. Organisations that have programs on sexual orientation as a normal part of their diversity training should have an edge over those that do not have such programs in recruiting and retaining high performers, especially in labour markets that face a shortage of well-qualified professionals, such as in the IT and finance industries.

Inclusive programs that support open communication benefit both employers and employees, because they facilitate honest exchanges, which in turn should help to increase job satisfaction, organisational commitment and productivity.

Catherine W. Ng

Senior Teaching Fellow, Department of Management and Marketing, Faculty of Business, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Employee Equality LGBT employee benefits

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