Meet The Woman Making Workplaces A Safe Space For LGBTQ People In Mainland China
Ivy Wong is trying to make workplace diversity the most important driver of positive change for LGBTQ people in mainland China
Ivy Wong is the ultimate ally. The Shanghai-based co-founder of corporate advisory and training consultancy Diversity and Inclusion Consulting, her work involves educating companies about the importance of LGBTQ inclusion, driven by a belief that the workplace is emerging as the most important safe space for LGBTQ people in mainland China.
A native of Hong Kong, she admits that she came to LGBTQ equality fairly late, while she was a student at the University of Hong Kong.
“As a person growing up in Hong Kong, I didn’t know what LGBT was,” she says. “At university I studied psychology and sociology, and part of that was gender concepts. It really just opened my mind. I was kind of fascinated: that people aren’t just straight or gay, but on a spectrum. This kind of concept reversed what I thought about society. I had a lot of curiosity. I wanted to learn about something that was super different from me, so I immersed myself in the LGBT community.”
An internship during university, supporting LGBTQ youth and their parents, was particularly eye-opening. “Often their parents would go from rejecting them to accepting their kids for who they are. This was beyond my imagination—something I’d never experienced as a straight person. It motivated me to want to do more.”
She started to get a few hints about what she might be able to do to help when, also at university, she organised job fairs to promote inclusion. “I realised companies can make profits while taking care of people,” she says. “The concept of combining business and social impact fascinated me.”
After graduating, she worked in Hong Kong for three years for NGO Community Business in its work promoting LGBTQ inclusion. Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan, international atmosphere, though, together with a lack of faith that the messages she was communicating to management were finding their way down the ranks, meant that she started to feel frustrated that she wasn’t making as much impact as she could.
She had visited Shanghai in 2017 to attend Shanghai Pride, where she gave a speech in front of several hundred people. “I was amazed. Before I came, I though that the LBGT topic was kind of taboo, but an organisation like Shanghai Pride could organise such a large scale event. I thought there was potential for me to help companies in China.”
She moved there three months later, and started volunteering for Shanghai Pride, also working as an advisor to the China Business Inclusion Council of US LBGTQ workplace advocacy organisation Out & Equal. With the deteriorating situation for LGBTQ people in mainland China, with the shuttering of Shanghai Pride and the recent closure of various WeChat groups, she has become increasingly convinced that the workplace will become the key driver of LGBTQ acceptance. As a result, and further inspired by the number of invitations to give speeches to companies they were receiving, she and Charlene Liu, the founder of Shanghai Pride, decided to set up Diversity and Inclusion Consulting.
Its clients are mostly local divisions of overseas multinationals, but the next frontier, she says, will be local companies, but that’s going to take a while, with plenty of educational groundwork to be done.
She says she is commonly asked by companies what the risk is to them of associating their name with LGBTQ inclusion, and is able to provide examples of other companies who’ve encountered no problems. “Once we present companies that are doing this well, then there’s no excuse not to. With the challenges of hiring and retaining people, it makes perfect business sense, starting on this journey.
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“People are confused, especially senior management, who are often older. They will ask: ‘Is it legal in China?’ Or they’ll say ‘We don’t really have LGBT people in China.’ Or: ‘It’s their private life—we shouldn’t talk about that.’ We can help to clarify these misconceptions. By setting up this company, we are changing people’s minds. If you really want to be competitive and retain employees, especially millennials, you need to set up a budget at the start of the year for diversity and inclusion.”
Diversity and Inclusion Consulting employs LGBTQ people as speakers, detailing their positive experiences of coming out in the workplace. “This kind of story is the most impactful—it can really change someone’s mind within a company. As a non-LGBT person, you don’t know how it affects your day-to-day life. One speaker talks about how she wanted to be out at a new workplace, so she put her partner’s name on the form for the insurance the company provided to partners. She was afraid of rejection, but her partner got the insurance, and she explains how this really motivated her to work for the company, because it cared for her.”
See more honourees on the Gen.T List 2021.