To keep talent, we must be a truly inclusive society
It is hard to miss the key areas of emphasis in the Chief Executive’s first policy address. Headings mentioning attracting enterprises and talent appeared early on, and there is no doubt of how seriously this issue is being addressed. The city has seen a brain drain and stemming that outflow while bringing in new talent has become critical to rebuilding the economy and Hong Kong’s status as a thriving business centre.
As Hong Kong looks outward, it is perhaps a serendipitous coincidence that October is Global Diversity Awareness Month. As we compete against other economies in the region for global talent, I cannot help but reflect on this month’s message on the critical importance of diversity and inclusion.
It is clear that diversity adds to the wealth of skills and creativity in Hong Kong. But we need to make sure the diversity that is brought in can thrive, by providing an inclusive and open environment.
Incidents such as food delivery riders from Hong Kong’s ethnic minority communities being subjected to racially derogatory comments as reveal in a recent study by Lingnan University, or the episode at a university dormitory targeting students from mainland, are examples of prejudice against people with diverse backgrounds.
We, at the Equal Opportunities Commission, often come across instances of racial discrimination and a lack of cultural sensitivity in our work too. These may range from unfriendly service at a retail outlets to outright refusal to rent premises to someone on account of their race.
Differential treatment on racial or cultural grounds in the workplace is also nothing new. More often though, it is subtle acts of microaggression or cultural insensitivity which minorities face, at work or outside, that make them feel unwelcome.
While policy measures and financial incentives may be successful in luring talent to the city, it is retention of talent that could provide challenging, and which causes concern. Hong Kong still has some ways to go before being truly racially inclusive. As a fairly homogenous society, it is easy for Hong Kong to get caught up in a majoritarian mindset. Further, a lack of natural interactions among people of different cultures, whether in the classroom, workplace or outside, results in biases not being addressed and becoming deep seated.
It is important to inculcate a societal mindset that is culturally inclusive and open, so that diverse backgrounds can feel welcome.
Education from a young age, supported by strong public messaging, can help create a society that is accepting and respectful of differences.
As diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers said: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
While we work on the number of talented people, we can lure to the city, we must pay equal attention to the intangible element of inclusion. For anyone to contribute productively, it is the intangible factors which are critical. How welcome do they feel? What is their experience when they shop or commute? Do they feel “othered”?
These are not simply “nice-to haves”. They may well be the key differentiator as Hong Kong competes with other regions for top talent.
As it rolls out the welcome mat to overseas talent, it must also do better at bringing down barriers for the hidden talent at home who have not been able to realise their full potential - namely, its small, young and growing ethnic minority community. There is an opportunity here and one that would be inexpedient for Hong Kong to overlook in this economic climate.
Clearly, it takes time for mindsets to change and policy to achieve goals. However, the gains are long-term. Hong Kong needs to position itself as an attractive place to live and work in. This has become a business and economic imperative. Let us use this opportunity to invest in building a society that values differences and become a world city in the truest sense.
The article was published in SCMP on 26 October 2022.