Banks and the pool of pink talent

30 January 2008
Today

Banks and the pool of pink talent

Neo Chai Chin

American investment bank Lehman Brothers is planning an unusual initiative in Singapore, Financial Times reported recently. It is specifically targeting gay and lesbians who aspire to be bankers. This follows the success of a presentation and buffet dinner for 50 gay students in Hong Kong.

Today has learnt that the banking giant is not alone. Global banks around Asia are breaking new ground to attract and retain the best and brightest. Increasingly, their hiring and diversity policies are taking into account the homosexual community, which makes up as a significant part of the talent pool.

At UBS Singapore, for example, benefits including health insurance are extended to a staff’s “significant other”, defined as “a person who has cohabited with an employee for a continuous period of 12 months”. The couple does not need to be married, and sexual orientation is not an issue.

Money is a factor in the competition for talent, but keeping up with social changes is also important.

“This is why our benefits policy is designed to be as flexible and inclusive as possible,” said Ms Leona Tan, UBS Singapore’s diversity advisor.

Merrill Lynch, on its part, has four professional networks in the Asia-Pacific region for its staff, one of which is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender network, set up last April. The other networks are for women, young professionals and parents. The firm even has an annual diversity week, when it hosts speakers, events and conferences for the various networks.

“Our efforts in the area of diversity are about how we can create the most effective and inclusive environment, one in which we value diversity rather than simply tolerate it,” said Mr Roman Matla, spokesperson for the bank’s diversity and inclusion team.

Besides Merrill Lynch and UBS, however, other banks Today contacted were less willing to provide details of exactly how they are catering or wooing gay employees. Gay bank staff whom this newspaper spoke to were not surprised by the taciturnity of their employers.

“We are not fully aware of the firm’s diversity policy, as it is not widely publicised,” said a 34-year-old employee of a European bank here. “I’ve heard that Lehman and Goldman Sachs are the more progressive firms, in that they are more explicit in talking about their policies, normally through email or employees’ handbooks.”

But are more events organised specifically for gay employees the way to go?

Perhaps not, the employee said. “To be honest, I feel it’s not an agenda that needs to be singled out – for example, a skincare workshop for gay employees. I would just like for the policies to be more explicitly stated.”

It does seem, however, that when it comes to diversity initiatives, offshore banks are ahead of their local counterparts. Three major local banks told Today that they did not have staff specifically handling the issue of diversity. OCBC, however, added that its human resource policies “do not discriminate against employees’ personal backgrounds including gender, race or religion”.

When contacted, Dr Stuart Koe, chief executive of Fridae.com, a gay lifestyle portal, said: “Having a diversity programme is going one step beyond an anti-discrimination policy. It shows that employers value the merits and contributions of their gay and lesbian employees.”

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