by Enia Dellepiane
Hong Kong, London, New York – The objective of The Economist’s March 3rd event, ‘Pride and Prejudice: The business case for LGBT diversity and inclusion,’ was clear and self-explanatory. Representatives of major global businesses and development institutions gathered to raise awareness, analyse, and (ideally) commit to LGBT inclusiveness. Over a 24-hour period, these matters were discussed almost continuously from one ‘global city’ to the next: starting in Hong Kong, then London, and New York.
Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the Word Bank Group, was among the speakers. The Economist has discussed the World Bank’s increasing role in promoting LGBT inclusiveness before. Speaking from London, The Economist’s Editor-in-Chief, Zanny Minton Beddoes, pointed out the significance of the World Bank’s embrace of this ‘intellectual, educational agenda’.
The concern raised from New York by Tom Standage, Deputy Editor of The Economist, was whether the World Bank taking a more active role in LGBTIQ rights would undermine the organisation’s ability to work across borders. Countries unwilling to comply with the inclusiveness agenda may turn away from the World Bank to ‘alternative sources of funding’ instead (i.e. New Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank [AIIB]). But Jim Yong Kim pointed to the persistence of the World Bank’s influence and reach: the prominence of its knowledge, and its long-standing role within the development sector. Kim described political disagreement as inconsequential in the comparison to the ‘high standards’ of delivery of the World Bank.
Mr. Standage also addressed the problems that may arise in the deployment of employees for projects in countries where LGBTIQ rights are not recognised, or even rejected. Kim agreed there are instances in which upholding values of LGBTIQ inclusion creates frictions, but that the institution must establish a position on these matters. The World Bank continues to operate in countries that do not protect LGBTIQ rights; the institutional position on LGBTIQ objectives in these countries – many of which will have been long term clients – may sometimes take an unofficial stance. Kim reasserted a commitment to oppose LGBTIQ discrimination within the World Bank Group.
As I noted on The Economist event Facebook page:
This comment was met by remarks about ‘elitist’ behaviour and corporate barriers to LGBTIQ inclusion. But we have to remember that the objective of the event was to influence and induce a pro-inclusive change in favour of LGBTIQ within the highest spheres of business. As the Head of Programmes at The Economist, Michael A. Oakes noted: ‘We’re doing it so we can attract the non-LGBT (and, of course, LGBT) business leaders who can bring about the change we need. We’re focusing this at the very top levels of business and government, and if you look at the content, that’s clearly where it’s aimed at.’
Others agreed that the price for the event was not affordable, and had excluded individuals and smaller businesses. The event was streamed online, but not without technical issues. If the commitment to inclusion is to be maintained with future events, these issues should be resolved.
As pointed out by Professor Kenji Yoshino (New York University), over 75 countries ‘criminalise same sex conduct.’ It is uncertain whether this event will stimulate businesses to lobby for change – and the question remains whether it is the role of businesses to influence states. Citing Beth A. Brooke-Marciniak: ‘In business we can’t control laws, we can’t control countries, but we can control the culture in our workplace.’ It is within the power of heads of businesses to prompt transformations within the culture of their organisations.
What’s remarkable was the participation in the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ event of firms with a significant impact on the global economy. Professor Yoshino noted 93% of companies have LGBTIQ policies (although the character of the sample undertaken and its political, economic, and perhaps even religious context would have enhanced the value of this figure). It appears to be in the economic interest of business to undertake policies of LGBTIQ engagement and inclusiveness.
A final observation is on the use of the ‘LGBT’ acronym. Plausibly, the declared focus of the event on LGBT matters includes Intersex and Queer. The shorter acronym LGBT was the most widely used, although Dr. Kim did made use of the LGBTI designation.
Enia Dellepiane is a first-year student on the BA in International Relations and Anthropology at the University of Sussex.
Title image © The Economist 2016