SHANGHAI — Lauren Qiang used to live a double life: She pretended to be straight at home but wasn’t worried about her sexual orientation while at work.
But after years of fears about being cut off from her family, the 27-year-old said she finally opened up to her parents after gaining financial independence. And, unlike her previous employer, the inclusive support mechanisms at the tech company she works at also emboldened her to tell colleagues that she is a lesbian.
“It is against company policy to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community at our workplace,” she told Sixth Tone. “So I gradually moved from being invisible to vehemently working with my colleagues to help with some of the company’s LGBTQ+ campaigns.”
Qiang was among the panelists sharing their experiences at the Diversity & Inclusion Consulting job fair held in Shanghai on Saturday. Though she offered an encouraging outlook on diversity and inclusion at her workplace, however, the overall situation remains far from equal.
In a new survey conducted by Beijing LGBT Center and Peking University, only 13.9% of roughly 3,400 respondents said their companies had diversity policies or anti-discrimination guidelines. Around 75% of the surveyed individuals who identify as sexual minorities said they were unsatisfied with their employer’s policies, which they felt didn’t contribute to a diverse workplace.
According to the survey released in May, “concerns regarding the company’s public image” and the “sensitivity of the issue” ranked among the main reasons why many employers fail to openly support sexual minorities.
More than two decades after China decriminalized homosexuality, attitudes toward sexual minorities have been gradually shifting. The gap between people opposing LGBT rights has been comparatively shrinking, and the community is more visible in mainstream media, with calls to support same-sex marriage growing.
But equality still remains a distant dream for many sexual minorities, with many of them not disclosing their sexual orientations out of fears of discrimination. According to joint 2016 research by Beijing LGBT Center, Peking University, and Being LGBTI in China, workplaces were common sources of discrimination — including physical and verbal abuses — after family and schools.
China’s Employment Promotion Law prohibits discrimination based on gender, religion, and ethnicity. However, it doesn’t include discrimination against sexual minorities.
Felico Soo, a clinical psychologist at SinoUnited Health in Shanghai, said that the fear of revealing sexual orientations usually takes an immense toll on an individual’s mental health, affecting both their personal and professional life. Speaking at Saturday’s job fair, she said it was imperative for companies to implement a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination, while introducing support mechanisms for LGBT employees.
In the absence of such workplace mechanisms, Soo said people can reach out to those with whom they are more comfortable talking.
“Finding someone you feel safe with would benefit your mental health,” she told Sixth Tone at the job fair. “I think this could be a window for opening up, particularly for mental health.”
Qiang said it took her several years to finally embrace her identity. She added that an accepting workplace environment has helped her productivity, which a majority of respondents in last month’s survey also mentioned.
“The friendly environment toward LGBTQ+ people at work really helped me in a lot of ways,” she said. “My mom would worry about my life as a lesbian, but if the company has my back, I can tell her that my sexual orientation won’t hinder my career prospects or livelihood, though it isn’t widely accepted by social norms.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Adriana Duduleanu/EyeEm/People Visual)