THE BLOG
12/08/2015 12:14 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2016

Hong Kong's Religious Pluralism Offers a Model for Diversity in the Special Administrative Region

Gary McGovern via Getty Images

In 2014, the Pew Research Center found that Hong Kong is one of the ten most diverse countries or territories in the world -- when it comes to religion.

Indeed, when it comes to faith, Hong Kong is remarkable - an officially secular city-state defined by religious pluralism, where many faiths interact and coexist. Here, many religiously unaffiliated people live beside practitioners of Chinese folk religions, Buddhists, and believers of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

It's a beautiful thing to see. Religious pluralism offers a model of how diversity works best in Hong Kong.

My organization, Out Leadership, is interested in understanding Hong Kong's diversity style because it provides a model for how the city could handle LGBT inclusion, which positively benefits economies, and would burnish Hong Kong's image internationally.

This is not a question of Eastern and Western culture, despite the fact that a 2015 study by Community Business found that 55% of Hong Kong residents consider "diversity and inclusion" to be a Western concept.

From a business standpoint, the case is open-and-shut: Closeted LGBT employees are 73% more likely to leave their companies within three years. Business leads and productivity are lost when employees leave and securing their replacements generally costs 3x their total compensations.

And that's not to mention the significant evidence suggesting that diversity helps companies make better decisions, and that including LGBT people within organizations builds business opportunity.

A 2005 study commissioned by the Hong Kong government, which sampled over 2000 randomly selected respondents, found that only 38.9 percent considered homosexuality in contradiction with the morals of the community.

Yet 10 years later, there's still no legal recourse for LGBT people who are discriminated against in Hong Kong.

Many believe that Asia is the next region in the world where LGBT equality will bloom. Hong Kong's deeply held values of diversity, tolerance and economic liberalism provide a strong basis for leadership in this movement.

As such, we wish to support and amplify the voices in Hong Kong and around the region that are speaking about the business and cultural value that diversity creates.

Hong Kong's Equal Opportunities Commission is currently studying the feasibility of legislating on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status discrimination. Its report will be published in the first quarter of 2016.

Earlier this year, Dr. York Chow, Chairperson of the EOC, wrote: "Importantly, religious leaders can help open up a dialogue by being role models of acceptance and open-mindedness. Much ostracising and shaming has been done in the name of religion, but there is no reason this cannot change."

Compassion is at the core of many faith practices, but it often seems to misfire when religious leaders talk about LGBT people. The Bishop of Hong Kong recently compared homosexuality to drug abuse.

Indeed, religious conservatives have been among the loudest voices calling for discrimination to remain legal in Hong Kong.

We believe that people of faith and LGBT people have more productive things to say to each other. Religious people and people who've experienced life in the closet understand what it's like to be different - and the importance of authenticity.

And that's why, at this year's Out Leadership Asia Summit, which will be hosted by HSBC and Hogan Lovells in Hong Kong this week, we're convening a discussion among many different religious traditions - each of which knows how it feels to be a minority in the SAR.

Faith, like sexual orientation, is something that people bring with them to work. Just as people shouldn't be fired for their religious beliefs, they shouldn't be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Deloitte's "Uncovering Talent," written by Kenji Yoshino and Christie Smith, based on research conducted with white-collar workers in the U.S. in 2013, explores how workers are personally affected by the cultural expectation to hide, or "cover," parts of their identities at the office.

68% of respondents said that that covering their affiliations at work - which religious people and LGBT people feel pressure to do, to some extent - was "somewhat or extremely detrimental to their sense of self."

Last year, Out Leadership surveyed the senior business leaders who attended our Summit in Hong Kong, asking: "Where do you think challenges exist for LGBT individuals in Asia? For example, do most challenges stem from family, faith, culture, workplace, or other causes?"

One respondent wrote: "Cultural expectations, more so than religion. There is still a strong sense that LGBT persons should simply not talk about or be open about their identities."

Response after response reiterated the challenge: "Family and culture." "Faith and culture." "Society."

In business we often speak about the importance of culture - we know that policy can change overnight, but that culture takes much longer. It's true of company cultures. It is also true of national cultures, and of global business culture.

25 years ago, few Fortune 500 companies prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Now, 89% do. Inclusion is a journey, and business has been on this path for a while.

As the example of faith demonstrates, diversity is already in Hong Kong's DNA.

There's still a lot of work to be done to include everyone in that promise, but those of us who know how much economic potential can be unlocked through LGBT inclusion stand ready to partner with other important communities in Hong Kong, including the faithful, to do so.