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Gay-Friendly Workplaces Can Enhance 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. 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.

Source: Singapore Business Review, 22 May 2013