Perspectives on LGBT Workplace Equality in Singapore

 

On January 10th, Out & Equal hosted a webinar entitled “Perspectives on LGBT Workplace Equality in Singapore” as part of our bimonthly global webinar series. The speakers—Leow Yangfa, the Executive Director of Singaporean LGBTQ advocacy organization Oogachaga, and Sophie Guerin, the Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Asia Pacific, China and Japan at Dell—gave insights into the current political climate in Singapore surrounding LGBTQ issues and discussed how companies can promote inclusive initiatives internally. At the end they also answered questions sent in by our audience members, a few of which we were unable to get to on the call. The answers to these extra questions are published below. If interested in discussing these comments further with the panelists, please reach out to Out & Equal at global@outandequal.org or directly with emails provided.

 

How many violations of the law outlawing homosexual acts have been prosecuted in the last few years?

Leow Yangfa: Since 2007, there have not been any prosecutions under Section 377A of the Penal Code (for ‘gross indecency’). However, there have been some reported attempts to do so.

 

Will you provide some of the names of the NGO’s and industry networks you know of in Singapore who are focused on LGBTQ workplace inclusion?

LY: Here are two links that would give you an overview of the various LGBT+ groups in Singapore:

There are a small number of existing industry networks. In the interest of privacy, may I invite you to email me and we can link you up by email: contact@oogachaga.com.

Sophie Guerin: Interbank HK, Pride in Diversity (Australia), Community Business, Aibai (China), Work4LGBT (China), Tokyo Pride Parade, Pink Dot.

 

What is the benefit of focusing on employee resource groups (ERGs), rather than driving the LGBT diversity dimension from the management level?

LY: My take is that placing the focus on employees would drive greater ownership and continuity, and hopefully sustainability too. It mirrors the ‘grassroots’ or ground up initiatives in civil society and the non-profit sector. However, support from top management is also crucial to ensure that it continues to get the visibility and credibility it deserves to drive it forward.

SG: At Dell, our management leads the employee resource groups. By driving inclusion through the ERGs, we are driving it through the management team. Management team members actively engage, lead and participate in ERGs, including Pride. Through our ERGs, we focus on fostering  an inclusive environment that encompasses the broad spectrum of employee diversity.

 

We often have employee and management interest and support, but we have sometimes been blocked in Singapore by Legal or Human Resource partners. Do you have strategies for overcoming conservative positions?

LY: That is tricky, as different offices in different countries (in Singapore and elsewhere) may choose to operate differently, citing ‘local culture’ as a reason. From our experience and understanding, HR and Legal partners would often tend to be more conservative in their advice, erring on the side of caution. Having said that, we also know of local corporate partners who have been able to work within guidelines and establish their LGBT networks, and implement LGBT-affirming HR policies. One tip might be to have support from top international/regional management (not just senior local management), to understand what local legislation does or does not allow. HR policies in Singapore are easier to navigate, as existing employment legislation does not make provisions for LGBT employees (but does not prohibit it either). Hence, the only thing stopping companies from adopting LGBT-affirming HR policies would be the company itself. If you have a specific example or industry you would like to comment on further, please email me directly (contact@oogachaga.com).

SG: I would frame the conversation in terms of being aligned to the market. First, research what your top customer and top competitors are doing in the market where you want to launch. Highlight specific examples of what they are doing and use this to build your case. Work with outside stakeholders to come in and build your case for LGBT inclusion (such as non-for-profits, customers, etc) to help you to articulate the case to your leaders. Finally, consider joining a network like Community Business, based in Asia, and invite your HR leaders to participate. Being a part of this network can help them to get a better sense of how the market is shifting around LGBT inclusion.

 

How do companies reconcile the government’s guidance to not publicly support LGBT causes in order to support their Pride ERGs?

LY: What many companies have done is continued supporting their LGBT Pride ERGs internally, through in-house activities or events where it is restricted to their own staff and invited guests. The revised government guidelines only apply to public events, and do not restrict internal events.

SG: Our Pride ERG does not run counter to any government laws or regulations. Pride is just one of many ERGs that are part of our global infrastructure and our internal employee networks. It is critical that companies fully understand regulations such as Section 377A or their equivalent before rolling out any Pride work in the countries in which they operate.

 

 

On Dell’s ERG growth:

How do you set out getting that initial momentum going when you start a new ERG, especially since it’s hard to drive employee attendance for events?

SG: In Asia, I focus on bringing it back to the business. Building a strong business-focused approach helps employees to create a safe space to begin to talk about LGBT inclusion. In conjunction with this, building in executive support as early as possible is essential for moving forward. Complementing this with training that is easily accessible both in terms of timing and language are all key components of a successful launch period.

 

What sort of challenges did you face when engaging senior leadership early in the process? Was it more challenging or less challenging than expected?

SG: It was less challenging than I thought it would be. I think there was a lot more expectation that leadership would be resistant, when in fact this was not the case. A lot of the early work with them was focused on education and tangible actions that they could take to show their allyship.

 

How were you able to provide the local leadership with the context and lexicon to be able to articulate the business imperative for D&I?

SG: This graphic summarizes our approach:

Sophie Graphic for Blog Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did employees in manufacturing sites respond? Did they need to ‘warm up’ to it? Did they reject it?

SG: We didn’t segment our education or outreach by function. What we did find was that in markets where we expected the most resistance, we did find some. In those markets we spent more time one-on-one with stakeholders to answer their questions, provide additional training and took our time in rolling out activities. Today, I find that these markets are some of our most pro-active and engaged around LGBT inclusion.

 

How often does your group offer training/refresher training?

SG: Our training is available any time and can be anonymously accessed. We are looking to refresh our regional training this year and many countries work with local not-for-profits to offer site-specific training to ensure local relevancy.