During DBP’s recent trip to Beijing for our Global Member Conference, we had the pleasure of meeting Jacob Huang, Corporate Program Director at Aibai. Aibai is a non-profit organization, based in Beijing, which provides resources, education, and advocacy for and about the LGBT community in China. Huang facilitated the LGBT breakout session at the conference. However, an interesting thing happened when participants broke up into the small groups: the only conference participants who chose the LGBT breakout were people working mainly in the US. Several Chinese participants said to Jacob that their heart was with his group but their work priorities were with another.
We asked Mr. Huang if he would speak to us at more length about these issues so that we can share his insights with our member companies with operations in China. Below you will find some helpful context, examples of best practices, and resources that will help your company create an inclusive workplace for LGBT employees in China.
DBP: Tell us a little bit about Aibai.
JH: Aibai was founded in 1999 by a Chinese gay couple as a website providing translated LGBT news, books, and information from around the world. It transformed into a non-profit organization in 2005 and started to spread its work to more areas where it advocates for equal rights for the Chinese-speaking LGBT community through all levels. Currently, the three key programs we are running are LGBT community leadership program, the education program, and workplace program. We aim to serve Chinese-speaking LGBT people by leveraging resources from around the world. We mainly work in mainland China, but also have volunteers from overseas, and work with LGBT organizations such as Stonewall, Out & Equal, and Los Angeles LGBT Center.
DBP: What is the climate in China regarding LGBT issues both in society and at work?
JH: China is still at an early stage of the LGBT movement, where most people are not aware that LGBT people even live around them or that the LGBT population is still facing stigma even after homosexuality has been removed from the list of mental illness in China since 2001. However without religious pressure, the biggest challenge for Chinese LGBT people is the family pressure. Traditional values believe men or women are supposed to marry an opposite sex partner at a certain age and carry on the family blood line. And the government won’t acknowledge the existence of the gay community except in the area of HIV, thus many of the gay men grassroots organizations have started to expand. The good news is, we have benefitted from the growth of the internet and social media and the younger generation in China shows a tremendous shift of attitude towards the LGBT population because of their high exposure to such information.
At work, it’s even more in the beginning stage. Most Chinese companies from the private sector do not recognize or admit they have LGBT employees. In 2011, we started to work with some multi-national companies to help foster awareness of LGBT D&I issues. Now most of the LGBT-friendly businesses we know are still multi-nationals, although some Chinese enterprises have launched marketing campaigns targeting the gay market because of the growth and visibility of pink dollars. But it is still very limited because of the dominant closeted culture.
Aibai has a tradition of conducting one survey report each year showing the most interesting data of the LGBT community to gain media and public attention. In 2012, we released a report on homophobic and trans-phobic bullying at school and in 2013, a report on workplace environment. Soon we will release one on the gay travel market, you can download all statistics and data (both in Chinese & English) from aibai.com for free. The links to those reports and additional resources are here:
DBP: Describe the work you have done with multi-national companies with operations in China to improve workplace inclusion for LGBT employees.
JH: We initiated the annual workplace diversity conference with founding sponsor IBM in 2011. In those three years we have pushed the conversation among attending companies as the awareness starts to grow. We have recently started to work with more multi-nationals such Goldman Sachs and Microsoft on building their internal/external LGBT D&I structures.
Besides the annual conference, we work with companies to create and support their campaigns/events on important days such as IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia) Day and Pride month. We will organize and support companies with different kinds of events accordingly to make sure it fits the China status and their own agenda and strategy.
We are now also working on some other relevant programs including a gamification program where we will design a game/training tool for companies to use to raise awareness of LGBT workplace issues among their employees, and a travel program where we encourage small/medium businesses in the travel industry in China to be more open and inclusive towards the LGBT community.
DBP: What are some best practices you have seen at companies that have moved efforts forward in the area of LGBT workplace inclusion.
JH: Besides those multi-nationals who already have built a LGBT-friendly policy adopted from the parent company, things are still moving slowly in China. What we need is more leaders within the companies to take the initiative to talk about LGBT D&I, who are open, visible and actively engaged. But the fact is, in China most LGBT employees still choose to stay in the closet.
I will use Goldman Sachs as an example for best practice. GS has always been a friendly ally overseas. However without anyone to lead the efforts in China, it simply kept silent and didn’t have LGBT D&I as a priority. But now with someone in leadership who is out, positively looking for networks and resources, we, as a LGBT NGO are able to connect with them and eventually work with them to create a buzz. None of this could’ve happened without leadership within the corporation.
Also, we understand it is a long process. Even at IBM, who started their EAGLE Chapter (IBM’s internal LGBT network) in 2008, only two LGBT employees have come out after the first leader did six years ago.
DBP: What are the biggest barriers for companies in doing this work?
JH: Because there is no anti-discrimination law in China in general, no legal protection for LGBT employees, and most LGBT people choose to stay closeted at work, companies usually don’t take sexual orientation or gender identity into account as part of their anti-discrimination policy. They don’t think of it as an issue thus won’t address it or think it relevant. A LGBT employee can get fired simply for coming out and the company doesn’t need to pay for that. It’s also a culture thing, when the general environment is unsupported, or it is a taboo topic at work, people usually tend to stay away from taking any risk of losing their jobs.
DBP: What is your advice for companies in China that want to start a conversation about LGBT inclusion in their organizations?
JH: I wound encourage them to start with something small and safe internally, such as building a LGBT & ally network or organizing events/campaigns around important holidays to raise awareness. Companies can work with LGBT NGOs like Aibai, to learn about the Chinese context for LGBT work.
DBP: Can you suggest some additional resources for our member companies starting their work on this issue in China?
JH: Here is a resource guide we launched last year published by Community Business:
Creating Inclusive Workplaces for LGBT Employees in China – A Resource Guide for Employers