When Robert Morrice, Barclays chairman and CEO Asia Pacific worked in London, he had a colleague who most people in his office suspected was gay but had difficulty coming out of the closet.
“What I found worrying is that I could see he wasn’t fulfilling his potential,” Morrice told delegates at the inaugural ‘Out on the Street’ event held on Thursday at the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong. “People that are not comfortable coming out can function at 30% below their productivity level because they don’t bring their full self to work.”
Upon reflection, Morrice now thinks that if his colleague felt he had more straight allies at the workplace and was confident that he would be accepted, he might have been more comfortable coming out of the closet. “Frankly, I could have been more straightforward. I should have said at the time don't worry, we’re comfortable with it,” said Morrice.
Morrice's experience captures the challenges that senior managers face, not least in Asia, where cultural norms may be less accepting of differences in sexual orientation. How can managers create a working environment that is inclusive and one in which employees feel comfortable to be themselves and open about their sexuality?
Senior bankers at the summit agreed on one thing. Fostering an inclusive environment is not just the right thing to do, it's also better for business and profitability.
Employees that are able to bring their authentic self to work and are not channelling some of their energy towards hiding who they are, are likely to be more productive. But few workplaces are willing to invest time and effort towards cultivating a more inclusive environment.
"Diversity-inclusive workplaces are more efficient and likely to retain talent," said Morrice. "An inclusive workplace has an important impact on the bottom line, so why are so few firms investing in them adequately?"
For many, having an open dialogue on sexual identity isn’t an easy thing. "It’s a difficult conversation for many leaders to have, particularly in Asia. I feel nervous at times. Am I going to say the wrong thing? said Noel Quinn, regional head of commercial banking for Asia Pacific at HSBC.
Quinn, who comes from what he described as a “very traditional Irish Catholic” family, cited his own family experience.
Quinn saw his cousin disappear for six to seven years and it wasn't until later that it became clear he was gay. This proved to be a difficult journey for both his cousin and family, but it was one they got through together in the end -- something which ought to give hope to business leaders.
“It was a difficult thing for a very traditional Irish Catholic family to get their head around," said Quinn. “What struck me was that if two very traditional country folk from the backyards of Ireland can get their heads around the issue of a son being gay, it should be a piece of cake for a leader in business.”
While some banks do offer gay partners the same benefits as heterosexual partners, that is not the case for all banks. Some banks also have different policies in Asia compared with the US and Europe.
The inaugural 'Out on the Street' event in Asia drew senior bankers who spoke on panels including Robert Vogtle, CFO, Asia Pacific at Deutsche Bank, Andrew Morgan, COO and CFO, Asia Pacific at Credit Suisse, Anita Fung, CEO Hong Kong at HSBC as well as top executives from companies such as Martin Cubbon, CEO of Swire Properties. Barclays hosted the event.
'‘Out on the Street’ was founded by Todd Sears, a former investment banker. It is the first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender leadership organisation developed specifically for the financial services community.