The Economist has just published a white paper, Pride and Prejudice, examining prevailing attitudes to LGBT people and diversity and inclusion in the Asia Pacific region.
Starting with the status of LGBT people in the workplace, an overall improvement was recorded in their acceptance.
“This improvement may be feeding one of the other key advancements over past years: a greater recognition of the link between corporate D&I and financial benefits to such policies and practices,” the white paper said.
“Specifically, 33% of executives in Asia Pacific agree there is a potential return on investment to LGBT-friendly workplace policies and practices.”
This is a 10% boost from the corresponding figure from 2016. However, this gain is significantly less than the boost seen in North America, but generally in line with other global regions.
When executives were asked if they would like their organisations to invest more in supporting D&I for LGBT staff, 45% of executives in Asia Pacific said yes – an 11% improvement on corresponding figures from 2015.
However, on the downside, “37% of executives in Asia Pacific also said that progress in advancing corporate LGBT D&I over the past three years has been limited or non-existent”.
It’s an issue that has been resonating in Hong Kong. And like the mixed results of the white paper, the city’s credentials on D&I on LGBT issues are also chequered. As the paper pointed out, Hong Kong had a breakthrough when banks intervened to support the legal case of a woman seeking a spousal visa for her lesbian partner.
But this was largely undone in May when two of Hong Kong’s biggest brands – MTR and the Airport Authority – temporarily banned an LGBT equality advert by Cathay Pacific.
Anita Leung, of Nomura, a global investment bank headquartered in Japan, believes that while there has been an overall improvement in attitudes in recent years in Asia, the issue of religion remains a “tricky” one, especially for companies.
“Businesses should have clear policies on equality and diversity, and draw a line between acceptable expressions of faith versus unacceptable discrimination,” she said.
For companies operating in the Asia Pacific region, the broad spectrum of attitudes towards LGBT people – from hostility to celebration – presents both a challenge and an opportunity.
But setbacks are also common, even in relatively progressive places such as Taiwan, where the road to same-sex marriage was immensely challenging, but ultimately successful.