Jun 21, 2016

    China's big cities more open to LGBT workers


    WORKPLACE discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people can be prevalent in some parts of China, but advocates and business leaders say that folks in big cities and certain industries are becoming increasingly accepting of these individuals.

    "The work environment for LGBT employees is slowly improving in first-tier cities, though the overall situation is still one of overwhelming stigma and silence for tens of millions of LGBT workers in China," said Steven Paul Bielinski, an American who founded the non-profit business network called WorkForLGBT.

    He is also the organiser of the Annual China LGBT Talent Job Fair held in Shanghai last month.

    The event drew 34 companies - double the number at last year's fair - and more than 500 job seekers.

    Among the big names were Starbucks, Edelman, Ford, 3M, Gap, Citi and Morgan Stanley. There were also multinational companies from other countries and several Chinese firms.

    Experts said more international and local firms have realised that attracting and retaining LGBT people in their companies can be the difference between failure and success given today's highly competitive labour and talent market.

    In Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, human resource departments and business leaders are realising that serving the interests of their LGBT employees also helps to advance the business interests.

    Edelman China, a public relations company, said in a statement: "We hope our employees could be their true selves instead of being framed by all kinds of stereotypes.

    "In that way, they can give their best performance and ignite more sparks of creativity."

    Yet, many LGBT people choose to hide their sexual orientation at the workplace.

    They may fear damaging relationships with colleagues and customers, impeding career prospects and being fired simply because the employer or manager disagrees with their sexual orientation.

    In the United States, about half of LGBT employees "come out" at the workplace.

    The ratio is much lower in China, said a report by WorkForLGBT. Only 12 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women reveal their sexual orientation to close colleagues.

    About 5 per cent of LGBT employees tell their bosses.

    Li Liang, 38, a gay man from Gansu province, said he has to make up stories about relationships with women whenever his colleagues talk about marriage or girlfriends.

    "I am an honest man and hate making up lies," said Mr Li who works as an IT operator in Shanghai.

    But Li Na, a 28-year-old lesbian, said China's first-tier cities are now more accepting of diversity.

    "I always dress in a masculine style, but when I walk along a street in Shanghai, I do not feel that people are looking at me in a strange way."