Based in Hong Kong, you manage an LGBTQ+ mentorship programme. What exactly does that involve?

Our pilot year just wrapped up in August. The first cohort consisted of 42 people in 21 Mentor-Mentee pairs. It’s a nine-month programme with monthly professional development sessions. The topics range from communication, resilience and well-being to authentic leadership. It’s not unlike other mentoring programmes, but this one focuses on young LGBTQ+ talent. All of our topics are viewed through an LGBTQ+ lens and we use LGBTQ+ facilitators and content as much as we can.

Last year’s cohort represented 15 industries and our goal is to widen the scope each year. Our Mentees are all part of the LGBTQ+ community and our Mentors are either LGBTQ+ or a demonstrated Ally. We fund the programme through corporate sponsorships so there is no cost to participate in the programme. Participants apply as individuals, not as a representative of their companies, so there is no need to disclose their participation if they are not out at work.

The 2021 programme was conducted almost entirely virtually due to COVID-19, unfortunately, but the feedback from the cohort has been excellent and people still managed to build meaningful bonds, which has been really gratifying to see. We look forward to in-person events this coming year.

You also advise clients on their Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) policies and strategies. How important is a DEI policy to the smooth and successful running of a business, and how can that be implemented?

Yes, the company I work for, Community Business, conducts a bi-annual LGBT+ Inclusion Index. Companies use the results to inform their LGBT+ DEI strategies. I think a DEI policy is a vital part of the big picture. Policies alone will not define a company’s culture, but without them people don’t have a clear sense of what the company stands for and what is considered “standard operating procedure”. At the risk of sounding cliché, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion needs to come from the top. Without a strong commitment and message from the leadership of a company, DEI initiatives and programmes will not have the intended effect. If they are done as “check the box” exercises, employees will know, and they will disengage.

We recommend that clients look at every aspect of the business and every point in the employee lifecycle from recruitment to off-boarding. DEI should be imbedded in every process. It can seem overwhelming, but with a clear strategy it can be broken down into manageable projects. If a company is early on their DEI journey, they can focus on one pillar, such as gender or LGBTQ+ and start there.

In terms of LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance, how does Hong Kong compare to the rest of China and what more needs to be done?

I’ll focus on the environment here in Hong Kong. I want to first recognise my privilege. I came here as an expat with my husband and daughter. My experience is not the same as it would be if I were born and raised here.

When we arrived in HK in 2015, I was not eligible for a dependent visa due to the law at the time. Same-sex spouses were not entitled, so I had a tourist visa and had to leave Hong Kong every three-six months to renew my visa. I was not allowed to work, study or even volunteer. I was fortunate to have a young child to devote my time and energy to for those first years here. Thankfully, that law was challenged and overturned in 2018.Our daughter is nine now and I’m happy to be a productive member of the workforce.

Hong Kong has a reputation for being an international city, but LGBTQ+ rights have had to be fought for in the courts. There is still no anti-discrimination legislation regarding LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace. Same-sex marriage is not legal and foreign marriages are only recognised for very specific purposes, such as dependent visas and joint taxation. Public opinion is changing for the better towards LGBTQ+ rights, especially with the younger generation. A recent study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) showed that approximately 80 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 34 said they supported the right to legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation in Hong Kong, as well as same-sex marriage. Progress is being made, but there is still a long road ahead.

On a personal level what are you proudest of?

I’m proud to work for a company that is helping to drive inclusion in Asia. On a daily basis, I get to use my own personal story to demonstrate to people that LGBTQ+ people are just like everybody else, and, as the slogan goes, “love is love”. I joke that I have the gayest job in Hong Kong: LGBTQ+ is actually in my job title!