Businesses can play a critical role in improving the rights of diverse individuals, both through internal policies and by advocating for legislative reforms. While progress has been made for certain groups, such as tackling gender equality through pay audits, the LGBTQIA+ community remain underrepresented in diversity frameworks and lack legal rights or protections in the majority of countries in Asia.
To mark the beginning of Pride month, an annual celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community to honour the 1969 Stonewall riots, Campaign Asia-Pacific has planned a series of articles to equip businesses with tips on how to establish inclusive practices for the LGBTQIA+ community and how to celebrate Pride with authenticity and compassion for the challenges specific to Asia. The two go hand-in-hand.
Today we speak with Karen Teo, an executive at Facebook who leads the global business group for APAC, focusing on scaled businesses. Teo has helped shape Facebook's DEI practices as the co-chair of Facebook's internal global Pride group, and an executive sponsor of the Women@APAC group and the Pride@APAC group. Executive sponsors of Facebook's internal employee resource groups are tasked with ensuring that the issues facing employees from all kinds of backgrounds are heard at the highest levels of the company.
Teo grew up in Singapore and identifies as a lesbian. Like most countries in Asia, Singapore has several anti-LGBT+ laws, such as criminalising same-sex sexual activity between males, and does not protect the community from discrimination based on sexual identity or orientation. The country has recently been in the spotlight for its stance on transgender individuals. Despite a strict legal environment, the country does permit an annual LGBT+ gathering, Pink Dot, which is seen as a refuge for the community.
Teo says she is grateful to work in an environment that embraces diversity and inclusion.
"I think it has allowed me to bring my whole self to the workplace. Which means I am able to be at my best in every role I play at Facebook," she says.
Technology companies often lead when it comes diversity, equity and inclusion practices, even if they continue to have problems with representation. Facebook aims to embed DE&I practices throughout its entire organisation, from onboarding to ongoing support. A Facebook ambassador program offers any candidate the opportunity to connect with current employees who represent a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. Employees are provided ongoing support through inclusion councils and resource groups.
But Teo acknowledges that Facebook is a minority in tackling all elements of diversity and inclusion in Asia.
"Simply put, there isn’t enough focus on the LGBTQIA+ in Asia’s existing framework, which is ironic given that it is one of the most diverse places in the world with an unmatched depth of languages, cultures, ethnicities and identities," she says. "The majority of countries in Asia lack legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation."
While this is "disappointing", Teo says she is encouraged by the many social, economic and moral imperatives by companies in the region that put diversity at the heart of their workforces, and by legal and societal shifts in some marketsover the past decade. For example, Japan’s First Lady Akie Abe marched in Tokyo’s Rainbow Pride Parade in 2014, and the Australian public voted for marriage equality in 2017 with a significant ‘yes’ majority. India decriminalised homosexuality in September 2018 and Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriages in 2019.
These are "significant" events but "there’s still much work to be done", Teo says. According to research in a whitepaper by the Economist Intelligence Unit earlier this year, 40% of respondents felt that being openly LGBT would hold their career back.
"Cultural change is slow and difficult but essential to achieving equality in the long run," Teo says. "While there may be setbacks along the way, I firmly believe equality for all will be achieved as long we continue to advocate for it."
Corporations play an important role in creating lasting change for the LGBTQIA+ community. They can support the community by cultivatating champions at both the grassroots and leadership levels of the company, and forming employee resource groups that constantly think about how to strengthen these champions.
"Ultimately, corporations need to commit to it for the long haul and continue working with their internal champions to find ways to take concrete action and build a more inclusive society together. And it may not all happen at the same time, but it has to start with at least that first," Teo says.
Teo has the following six tips for businesses looking to create more inclusive environments for the LGBTQIA+ community:
- Conduct a pay gap analysis by taking into account demographics, job levels and functions to diagnose where pay differences may lie, before taking steps to address these differences.
- Evaluate take-up rates of DE&I initiatives focused on the LGBTQIA+ community, and analyse the data to understand employees’ receptiveness.
- Gather views of employees on a regular basis to ensure that your organisation’s actions are relevant and practical, and that they meet their expectations.
- Use regular surveys to assess the level of employee engagement and satisfaction across all demographics.
- Support the growth of the internal community through the appointment of senior leaders as executive sponsors. This will act as strong proof to employees that they are in an environment where they can achieve success and is inclusive of difference.
- Evaluate the kind of employee benefits that are currently being offered. At Facebook, we offer Domestic Partnership Benefits in which the partners of individuals are supported as well.
We'll leave you with the most impactful advice Teo says she received from a mentor or colleague, which helped her navigate her own career path.
Embrace who you are, trust in the good of people to look beyond your skin colour and sexuality and be deliberate in how you want to build success.
Check out our other LGBTQIA+ coverage:
Pride month: How can brands avoid pinkwashing?
A Vietnam perspective: Culture and working life as an LGBTQIA+ person in the industry
A Malaysia perspective: Culture and working life as an LGBTQIA+ person in the industry
A Japan perspective: Culture and working life as a LGBTQIA+ person in the industry
What's it like working in the industry as an LGBTQIA+ person?