Private sector dialogue examines the human and economic impact of LGBTI workplace discrimination in Thailand

Nov 3, 2015

UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Mr Luc Stevens Photo: Tivea Koam

Discrimination and exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in the private sector workplace in Thailand and across Asia is having both economic and human impacts. While progress is being made, more open support for the LGBTI workforce on behalf of corporate leadership as well as by government and civil society is needed for progress to be achieved on equal and inclusive workplaces.

These were among the key messages that emerged from a national executive dialogue on the business of LGBT rights in Asia jointly convened by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and The Economist Events at the UN Conference Centre in Bangkok, Thailand.

“Employment discrimination is a real and very serious issue that affects the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and their employers every day,” said UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Thailand, Mr. Luc Stevens. “UNDP believes that for development to be effective, it must be inclusive. In order to be inclusive we must proactively ensure that all marginalized populations are actively encouraged and supported in achieving the full realization of their rights, including the right to work.”

The gathering was part of a series of national dialogues in China, Indonesia and Thailand on LGBTI rights and discrimination in the world of work. The results will feed into a global dialogue being jointly organized by and The Economist with support from UNDP on 3 March 2016, titled ‘Pride and prejudice: The cost of LGBT discrimination’. More than 30 people attended the Bangkok event, including representatives from the private sector, government, LGBTI activists, civil society and development partners.

“Discrimination has the effect of alienating highly-skilled LGBTI employees and their allies who opt for more inclusive workplaces resulting in recruitment losses, higher staff turnover and reduced corporate loyalty,” said Charles Goddard, Editorial Director for Asia-Pacific at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Mr. Goddard also noted that 68 percent of respondents to a 2010 Economist Intelligence Unit survey believed that a diverse workforce improves financial performance.

Negative publicity as a result of discriminatory practices can also have an impact upon consumer choices. Research by LGBT Capital, a specialist asset management and corporate advisory business estimated that the global spending power of LGBTI people in 2015 was US$3.7 trillion, and a 2015Google Consumer Survey demonstrated that LGBTI people and their allies were far more likely to support a business that was inclusive and welcoming to LGBTI customers and staff.

Participants at the dialogue heard cases where LGBTI job applicants in Thailand have been rejected due to non-gender conforming appearances, discordance between their gender-identity and the gender shown on identity documents, as well as facing invasive questions about sexuality, gender identity or sex characteristics, which are not experienced by non-LGBTI job seekers and colleagues.

A number of good practice examples were shared regarding businesses in Thailand maintaining inclusive human resources practices, including from representatives of Baker & McKenzie, Minor International, Lazada Group, Tilleke & Gibbins, The Mall Group, Voice TV and DD Property. A common theme was the importance to their businesses of a diverse, talented and dynamic workforce.

Some differences were noted between multinational and local businesses on corporate perspectives, policy approach and practices regarding workforce inclusivity and job benefits for LGBTI employees. Large multinational companies are more likely to have established policies and practices supporting LGBTI employees, such as same-sex partner benefits, while local companies are less likely to have formal policies, although they may be inclusive in practice.

Representatives of Thailand’s LGBTI community noted the serious challenges faced by LGBTI people in access to jobs, especially transgender people, and the detrimental effects of hostile work environments to their well-being and career advancement.

Participants agreed on the need for formalized human resource policies that protect the rights of LGBTI employees, more open and direct discussion of LGBTI issues at work, and more open and formal support from the leadership level. In addition, it was highlighted that social dialogue and legal and policy protection need to be extended to those outside of the urban, white-collar workforce, including rural populations, blue-collar workers and people with lower levels of educational attainment in the informal economy. These groups also should be included in policy discussions.

The recently enacted Gender Equality Act 2015 was presented by the Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development. This is the first legal instrument in Thailand that bans discrimination on the basis of gender and is inclusive of LGBTI people. The implementation of the Act is expected to provide safeguards against gender-based workplace discrimination, including in the private sector, although it was noted that the implementation needs be linked to labour law in order to be effective.

The dialogue concluded with an interactive session led by ILO on key priorities and actions to promote LGBTI-inclusive change in the workplace, which will inform the upcoming global dialogue in March 2016. The recommendations involved actions at both individual and corporate levels to affect positive change:

For the private sector:

·        Include workplace diversity in corporate core values with open support from leadership for the inclusion and equality of the LGBTI workforce.

·        Lead by example in promoting diversity and non-discrimination awareness through targeted training in the workplace.

·        Develop and implement clearly articulated codes of conduct and formalized anti-discrimination and inclusive human resource policies that include transparent procedures and practices in relation to recruitment, promotion and evaluation criteria, compensation, dismissal, and actionable dispute mechanisms.

·        Advocate for and share good practices among companies and industries.

·        Proactively engage with and provide support to public and civil society sectors to affect positive change.

For government and civil society:

·        Develop leadership in championing LGBTI causes at the individual and organizational levels, and set positive examples in promoting the rights of LGBTI people for others in society to emulate.

·        Support organizations recognized as implementing good practices that promote LGBTI causes through positive reinforcement, such as granting workplace diversity awards to companies or publishing an ‘Inclusivity Index’ for the public to be made aware of companies with positive LGBTI policies and practices.

·        Be proactive in affecting change by building alliances with corporate and social partners, including the media.

·        Engage with media to change negative LGBTI stereotypes through more realistic portrayal of LGBTI people.

·        Advocate for the development of employment-specific non-discrimination legislation and support the development process of non-discrimination enforcement mechanisms at the organizational and national policy levels.

The dialogue was supported by ‘Being LGBTI in Asia’, a regional initiative by UNDP, the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).