Top Chinese and western firms have met for a summit in Shanghai on how to support LGBTI workers, many of who are still in the closet.
Chinese companies often say they don’t know of any LGBTI staff – but now they are starting to tackle the issues.
The summit today (27 March), thought to be the first of its kind in China, brought together 120 people from around 100 companies, about 10% of which were Chinese.
Among them was HSBC, IBM and Chinese computer company Lenovo but 50 Fortune 500 firms were represented.
It was organized by Steven Paul Bielinski, who founded Shanghai LGBT Professionals just four months ago to create a better future for the countries gay, lesbian, bi and trans employees.
The network has around 70% Chinese and 30% western members.
Bielinski told Gay Star News: ‘There have been a lot of companies talking about LGBT as a business issue but it hasn’t made it to the strategic level yet.
‘A lot of HR leaders agree it is an important issue but say they don’t know anyone LGBT in their company. And these are big multinational companies with huge offices. I wanted to give a chance for all these leaders to talk and meet so they can realize their company must have LGBTs.
‘Companies say they want to do something about LGBT but don’t know where to start. So we heard corporate case studies of companies who are already in China and have policies, so these other companies can say I can do this and to hear what the benefit is for them doing it.
‘90% of US Fortune 500 companies have specific policies for LGBT. But when they come to China, most of those companies are not actioning those policies.
‘It is not that people outside the US are against these policies but it’s just because there are virtually no openly LGBT employees, the executives say we don’t need to action it, it is not relevant to China.
‘But that is changing as more and more employees are coming out and telling their friends and becoming more confident. Companies realize that and want to be ahead of this trend and have training and policies in place.’
Bielinksi said private Chinese firms, particularly in the tech, PR and media sectors, appeared to be more interested in LGBTI issues.
State-owned enterprises, he believes, are less focused on diversity as a business interest, as it does not yet have widespread political backing.
The First Annual LGBT Diversity and Inclusion Conference focused on attracting and retaining talent and increasing productivity through having a happy LGBTI workforce.
But Bielinski is already thinking about his next summit, expected later this year, to focus on another business opportunity – the massive, untapped LGBTI market in China.
‘For companies that are willing to direct market to LGBT people, there is an enormous opportunity to build loyalty and take it to the next level,’ he told us.