Cultural Complexity, Channels of Influence and Lanyards: LGBT Inclusion the Singaporean way!

Post Date: August 19, 2019

Monday, 19 August 2019

As disparate as these concepts may sound, they were top of mind at the recent Diversity and Inclusion at Work conference organised by Workplace Pride in Singapore last Thursday, August 15th. This ground-breaking conference looked at many aspects of diversity and inclusion in the Singaporean workplace but zoomed in on how the inclusion of LGBTI people had its own very particular challenges.

The act of same-sex relations between men is still legally prohibited in Singapore, yet there is a thriving LGBTI community with many local civil society organisations such as Pink Dot and Oogachaga playing an important role in making this community more visible and acceptable. Visibility in the workplace though has always been a challenge given the many cultures and backgrounds represented in the country: one which this conference addressed in a way that was both very Singaporean yet also open to ideas from many different sources.

Hosted by IBM in their offices in downtown Singapore, the day was kicked off by CEO and Chairman IBM Asia Pacific, Harriet Green, who outlined the need to create momentum that all businesses operating in Singapore can really get behind. Lyn Lee, Shell’s Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion took the discussion even further by telling her own personal story of growing up in Singapore and learning to maintain cultural harmony while still making progress: a challenge that was reflected by many participants throughout the day.

Complementing these openings was a thorough overview of the local legal situation for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, given by Hanim Hamzah, Regional Managing Partner of ZICOlaw. In particular, this highlighted the challenges that organisations face when trying to have a consistent D&I (including LGBTI) in the ASEAN region with so many legal differences.

Fast on the heels of that revelation came an overview by David Pollard outlining the international landscape for LGBTI inclusion plus a fascinating story by Anna Tan, representing Open for Business.  Anna’s presentation showed how Singapore is ‘partially’ open to LGBTI inclusion which can be an economic boost to competitiveness, but also that there is still a ways to go.  

But the conference also took a very personal tone when it came to the power of rainbow lanyards (which were distributed to conference participants). This very small gesture of inclusion was found to be both confronting by some, and yet a wonderful way to get the conversation about LGBTI inclusion started by others. Whether an ally or a member of the LGBTI community, it was generally agreed that wearing a rainbow lanyard at work, helps to show WHY LGBTI inclusion is so very important.

The rest of the day was filled with panel discussions, a roundtable designed for top decision-makers, and more focused breakout sessions covering the topics of:

The conference was followed by an evening reception hosted by Netherlands Embassy in Singapore and included many local civil society organisations, business and diplomatic representatives. Netherlands Ambassador, Margriet Vonno, who kindly hosted the reception, pointed out that more diverse workplaces actually lead to better economic results which benefit both employers and employees.

While not brand new, the story for LGBTI inclusion at work in Singapore took a great leap forward with this conference. There will be follow up on both the strategic level with Workplace Pride members and amongst LGBTI employees. But one thing became very clear; progress on LGBTI inclusion at work must go at a natural pace, respect all parties, fully involve civil society organizations and people from different backgrounds – in short, the Singaporean way!

Click here for the ZicoLaw presentation.

Click here for the Workplace Pride presentation.

Click here for the Open for Business presentation.

Images from the conference & reception