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Pride and Prejudice conference

 

 

The Economist magazine hosted its first Pride and Prejudice conference. The event explored how big business can help to promote LGBTI diversity and inclusion around the world

 

By David Hudson


 

Pride and Prejudice was unique in that it was a 24-hour, rolling event that consisted of conferences in three of the world’s financial hotspots: Hong Kong, London and New York.

It attracted some big-name participants, including the President of the World Bank, Dr Jim Yong Kim; Director of the CIA, John Brennan, and Randy Berry, the US State Department’s Special envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, among around three dozen others.

BBC Newsnight presenter Evan Davis hosted one of the London panel discussions, and commented that events such as Pride and Prejudice can sometimes consist of: ‘LGBT people speaking to other LGBT people about how nice LGBT people are.’

In other words, diversity advocates telling other diversity advocates about the benefits of diversity.

So, did Pride and Prejudice bring anything new to the table?

Well, the trouble with assembling senior corporate leaders is that they rarely stray off-topic or reveal controversial facts; they’re too smart for that.

That said, The Economist is to be commended for arranging an impressive line-up of speakers and for asking some tough questions.

Chief among these is whether big business should be doing more to advocate for LGBTI rights in parts of the world where it’s difficult to do so.

A London panel of LGBTI activists from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Egypt, including Omar Sharif Jnr, Bisi Alimi and Moud Goba, thought that big business could do more.

Business leaders defended their stance and said that a softly-softly approach was more productive, particularly when dealing with countries such as China (‘where quiet diplomacy works better than head-to-head conflict,’ said WP’s Martin Sorrell, the best-paid CEO in the UK).

Many drew comparisons with South Africa. Some suggested that pressure from big business had helped to bring an end to racial apartheid, but that this had included not boycotting the country.

The former head of HR for Shell, Hugh Mitchell, said that the oil giant’s decision to not pull out of South Africa during the apartheid era had been the right one.

John Browne, Lord Browne of Madingley, the former head of BP, said that energy company had taken prominent employees from South Africa during the apartheid era and placed them in other parts of the world to show them how things work elsewhere. When they had returned to South Africa, they had become advocates for change.

The debate on how aggresively big business can push for change is one that will run and run, and, realistically, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It would be naïve of some activists to think that an outright boycott is always the appropriate or most productive answer.

It would be equally naïve to think that corporates act solely in the interests of promoting diversity and inclusion.

For myself, the most interesting facts to arise from the day came from the lesser known participants, and the Economist’s own research.

The magazine surveyed just over 1,000 business leaders from around the globe last November and December.

Chief among its findings was that one in six executives are not convinced that LGBT advancement can boost a business’ bottom line – despite plenty of evidence to the opposite. New global corporate coalition Open for Business produced a comprehensive report on the benefits last year.

Furthermore, one out of two executives cannot name a specific measure his or her company is using to monitor progress on LGBT diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This is despite the fact that monitoring, and data, are clearly what is needed to change minds; nothing talks louder than money in the big business world.

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