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Asia lags in offering LGBT employees equal benefits

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Despite more Asian employers recognising the importance of welcoming LGBT individuals into the workplace, a new survey by Mercer found that companies in Asia still lag in terms of offering LGBT employees the same level of benefits as their heterosexual peers.

Mercer's LGBT Benefits around the World Survey revealed that companies in North America are nearly twice as likely as those in Asia to offer the same level of benefits to both LGBT and heterosexual employees.

Gathering responses from more than 50 countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, the survey found that only 49% of Asian companies offered its LGBT employees the same level of benefits as its heterosexual staff - the lowest among the seven regions covered in the report.

In Singapore, that percentage plummets to 15% - the lowest among all Asian countries surveyed.

While about half of companies in Malaysia (47%) and Hong Kong (53%) provide the same level of coverage to LGBT and heterosexual companies.

As if having the lowest percentage of companies offering equal benefits to LGBT employees isn't bad enough, only 5% of companies in Singapore are planning to implement equal benefits for their LGBT employees in the coming year. While 7% of companies in Malaysia and the same percentage in Hong Kong are planning to do the same.

“Organisations have started to understand the power they have to influence the markets to protect LGBT employees providing equal and inclusive benefits” said Diego Ramirez, principal in Mercer’s Global Health business.

“In a climate where key talent is scarce and public scrutiny of corporate behavior is increasing, organisations cannot afford to overlook their global LGBT policy and how it is articulated on the ground consistently across the borders.”

Mercer LGBT sutdy infographic


READ MORE: Are workplaces really becoming more LGBT inclusive?

Digging deeper, Mercer's survey revealed varying reasons as to why organisations do not offer equal benefits to LGBT employees.

Half of organisations stated they are constrained by national laws, while approximately one-third reported they do not offer benefits due to cultural, societal preconceptions, or the company’s inability to implement such a benefit plan.

In Singapore, 88% cited legal restrictions in the country while 41% cited cultural or social perceptions. A similar situation was seen in Hong Kong with 50% citing legal restrictions and 38% pointing to cultural or social perceptions.

In Malaysia, a disproportionate amount of employers (71%) cited legal restrictions, while 46% pointed to cultural or societal perceptions.

It's interesting to note that despite ranking the lowest in terms of equal benefits coverage for LGBT and heterosexual employees, only 18% of companies in Singapore revealed that they don't know how to implement such a benefit, while 5% stated that they did not have the budget to do so.

The report further noted that legal restrictions disproportionately inhibit organisations in Central and Eastern Europe (86%), Middle East and Africa (81%), Western Europe (75%), and Latin America (61%). By contrast, less than one-third of organisations in North America (31%) do not provide equal benefits for this reason.

ALSO READ: C-suite and staff disagree about support for LGBT employees

Additionally, the survey found that  while many global organisations have adopted broader diversity and inclusion policies, 33% of organisations still do not have a designated program for LGBT employees within their diversity and inclusion policy.

“With all the uncertainty of the past year and the spotlight on human rights issues, it is more important than ever for organisations to reassess their position on LGBT-rights issues,” said Ilya Bonic, president of Mercer’s Career business.

“In the global war for top talent, companies perceived as non-discriminatory and progressive enhance their attractiveness as a workplace by creating a welcoming, supportive, and productive environment.”



As a redeeming factor, the survey revealed that most have adopted a policy that protects them from workplace discrimination or harassment.

Mercer's survey revealed that two-thirds of global organisations have a separate anti-discrimination policy that covers LGBT employees and an additional 6% plan to adopt such a policy within the next 12 months. While a smaller portion of companies (28%) allow employees to self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender for the purposes of workforce analytics.

In Singapore, 42% of companies have a non-discrimination policy that protects LGBT employees. While 54% of companies in Hong Kong and 58% of those in Malaysia have a similar policy.

READ MORE: 5 ideas to build an LGBT-friendly workplace in Singapore

“In Asia, diversity & inclusion, including LGBT employees, is becoming an increasingly popular topic amongst organisations,” said Godelieve Van Dooren, regional benefits Leader at Mercer.

“Adapting current policies or introducing LGBT-related policies is important to attract and retain employees as well as labels the brand a responsible corporate citizen. With many LGBT rights in parts of Asia still developing, when compared to the West, this can be a key differentiator to organisations as well as for employees looking for new roles in Asia as it allows employees to ‘be themselves’ and feel accepted into an organisation.”

Photo / 123RF

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