Creating a safe environment for your employees to be open about their sexual orientation helps improve employee engagement.
Many companies prize integrity as a virtue and desire this from their employees. It is usually a part of the organisation’s mission statement and core values.
But the question that you, as an employer or manager, should ask yourself is this: have you created an environment that makes people feel safe? Is the work culture an embracing one such that people feel safe to be themselves?
Let’s take the simple example of whistleblowing. Companies would want any unlawful or unethical practices to be reported as it is in the company’s interest to remain aboveboard. Correspondingly, ecological systems should be set up to protect the whistleblowers.
If an employee is gay and tries to hide his or her sexual orientation for fear of being penalised or discriminated against, then this person is not being authentic. In fact, we can even say that the person is being fake or is a phony, and that would literally run against the codes of a company that values integrity.
Now what if the individual takes that step to ‘come out’ and be open about his or her sexual orientation? That, in itself, takes a lot of courage. In order for them to feel safe, the climate must be one that is accepting and embracing. At this point, you may be asking yourself why is it so important to have a working culture that truly accepts people for who they are, and how is that beneficial to your organisation.
Consider this: When an individual is empowered to be himself, he will definitely feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, resulting in a more engaged employee. At the same time, other teammates within the organisation will also feel a sense of engagement as they witness the organisation upholding the over-arching principle of having integrity and being embracing of individual differences. We are not just talking about the retention of people, but building a great team of empowered and enlightened people.
The Scourge of 377A
Many advanced economies have been debating the legalisation of gay marriage in recent years, with France and even Uruguay being the latest countries to legalise same-sex unions last month.
But in Singapore, which ironically considers itself an advanced and “world-class” city, the archaic law that criminalises homosexuality – Section 377A – remains on the law books.
Singapore inherited that law from British colonial times and it is rather absurd that the original source of the law is now defunct yet we are still stuck with it. In the eyes of many advanced nations, it is really backward to still have this code in our ordinance and this sentiment resonates with many well-educated Singaporeans who have travelled to other progressive places around the world.
Although the authorities may have come out to say that it will not be actively enforced, they are adamant about keeping the outdated legislation rather than abolishing it for the reason that Singapore is a “largely conservative society”.
As a business leader, HR practitioner, and Singapore citizen who desires for Singapore to advance further, I see the need for 377A to be repealed. If we want to be able to call ourselves an advanced nation in the true sense of the word, we need to look towards what other advanced countries are doing and compare notes on how they seek to embrace people differences through legislation.
The call is not even for gay marriage. It’s about the basic human right of people to be free to be themselves. Having this law creates a cultural stigma that prohibits gay individuals from simply being themselves.
Furthermore, keeping the law alive provides justification for discrimination – in the workplace or otherwise. With the law on their side, anyone – be it colleagues or superiors – can easily use the knowledge of their co-worker’s sexual orientation against him or her.
At its extreme, it makes the gay individual susceptible to blackmail in the workplace. So as long as the stigma of Section 377A hovers in the background, gay employees will not feel entirely safe to reveal their sexual orientation in the office. And if we want to truly advance as a country, this is an area that we really need to look into.
Failing which, we will be pushing good people out of the country and the Singapore economy will lose even more good talent.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Joshua Yim is the founder and CEO of Achieve Group, an HR consultancy providing human capital solutions for national conglomerates and MNCs in the Asia Pacific region since 1990. The veteran HR professional has received several business awards over his career, including the Spirit of Enterprise Awards 2011, the Outstanding Entrepreneur Award at the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Award 2010 (APEA), and the Entrepreneur of The Year Award 2009.
His company, headquartered in Singapore with an office in Malaysia, has also garnered a number of prestigious awards including the 2011 Singapore Enterprise 50 Award, ASEAN Business Award in 2011 and 2010, and Singapore Prestige Brand Award 2010.
A prominent figure in Singapore’s HR community, Joshua is often invited as a speaker for HR and business events. He has appeared in interviews on national TV, radio, magazines and newspapers, and also actively contributes his industry insights to the various media both local and internationally.