Should you come out at work? Your boss doesn’t think so

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Yen Feng

Yen Feng

Yen is a freelance editor and yoga instructor at on Instagram/TikTok and @yenyogasg on Telegram.


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If you’re thinking of coming out at work, maybe think again – especially if you work in Asia, and believe your boss may be one of the 40% of executives in a new study who said being openly LGBT would hinder a person’s career prospects.

More than half of the respondents also said that in Asia, it would be easier for LGBT people to advance professionally if they kept their sexual orientation and gender identity private.

And while 43% did say they believed that disclosing such sensitive personal information would get easier in about three years, 57% disagreed. In fact, this half believed there would be no change, or that things would get even more difficult.

The new study, conducted by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, spoke to nearly 360 full-time employees at companies across seven territories in Asia. They were China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. About 44% of respondents were director-level and above, including 16% C-suite executives. The sample size was 77% male and only 8% were members of the LGBT community.

Among other findings, the study also showed that 60% of respondents believed that their firm’s level of investment in LGBT diversity and inclusion should either stay the same, or be scaled back.

Apart from socio-cultural norms, a factor identified by the report on these results may be linked to the lack of prominent LGBT business leaders, like Apple’s Tim Cook. This lack of LGBT representation among top leaders in Asia was a “glaring factor” that impeded broader LGBT advancement, the report said.

Familiarity breeds acceptance

There was one silver lining to the report: that coming out to people begets acceptance. One of the most important determinants of LGBT acceptance — both in business and broader society — is knowing someone who is LGBT. In the survey, people who have friends, family or colleagues in the LGBT community were vastly more likely than others to hold positive views on LGBT issues.

For example, they were:

  • More than three times more likely to want their firm to invest in advancing progress for LGBT people,
  • Three times more likely to say there are business opportunities in enacting LGBT-friendly workplace policies and practices,
  • 14 times more likely to say they are comfortable joining an LGBT support or allies’ network at work, and
  • Nearly three times more likely to say they would like to work for a company that is an advocate for LGBT diversity and inclusion.

These findings highlighted that it was likely the “fear of the unknown” driving much of the animosity or lukewarm attitudes toward LGBT people in Asia, a region where conformity and adherence to social norms is often stronger than in the West, the report noted.

Looking ahead

The report ends on a positive note, arguing that it would only be a matter of time before companies in Asia followed the footsteps of their Western counterparts in terms of openly embracing LGBT people in the workforce.

“Once the wheels of progress have been set in motion, they are extremely difficult to reverse,” the report said.

Shifts in attitude, such as Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s subtle support for LGBT rights in recent years, the advantageous court rulings in Hong Kong that were accompanied by the emergence of LGBT-friendly policies among the region’s firms (albeit mostly multinationals), and signs in India of more public acceptance of LGBT people by its companies, all suggest Asian firms are in a good position to drive progress.

“Although Asia remains a continent of contrasts — political, social, technological and otherwise — the rest of the world looks forward to the next chapter of its progress on LGBT issues, spoken with a single, forceful voice of acceptance,” the report concluded.

View the full report here.

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