Goldman Sach’s Hiring Policy: Affirmative action for LGBTs

Legally, employment law has both private and public dimensions. Recently, the role of "sexual orientation" in employment came into the spotlight with commencement and discontinuation of the action by Wee Kim San Lawrence Bernard to petition the court to declare discrimination against "sexual orientation" unconstitutional.
 
On another front, Goldman Sachs has launched its own initiative. MyPaper reports in "Wanted by Goldman Sachs: LGBT employees" (30 April 2014):
IN WHAT could be a first here, renowned investment bank Goldman Sachs has made a specific recruitment call to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students. 
Next month, it will hold an LGBT recruitment and networking dinner at its Singapore office, where attendees would be able to "discuss issues and concerns regarding being 'out' in the workplace with participants". 
An event listing on the company's website also made reference to its support of the Pink Dot event that is to take place in June.  
Goldman Sachs has been firm on being inclusive, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation, boasting a list of employee networks such as The Disability Interest Forum, The Goldman Sachs Women's Network and LGBT Network. 
Human resource experts told My Paper that given the labour crunch, companies should be mindful about closing doors on any specific group of people. 
Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, said: "It is good for employer branding as it shows that they are open and unconventional in their approach.  
"It can appear very attractive, especially to the younger generation."  
Such a move would also send a strong signal to the rest of the LGBT community that it is an organisation that does not discriminate against any type of talent, said Linda Teo, country manager of Manpower Staffing Services (Singapore). 
"As companies strive to be globalised and be competitive in their own industry, it is imperative to have a good diversity of talent for their workplace, regardless of gender, sexuality or race," she said. 
Companies here are becoming more accepting of LGBT employees, but multinational companies clearly take the lead in this. 
Many Asian or local firms remain conservative, said experts. 
Ms Teo said it might just be a case of being "unsure of what to expect or how to manage their interactions with co-workers", which can be resolved with open communication or adjustments in work processes, when necessary.  
But there are those who choose to just not shine the spotlight on the issue. 
Ronald Lee, managing director of PrimeStaff Management Services, said companies evaluate any application based on an individual's competencies. "They don't ask personal questions like one's sexual orientation," he said. 
Mr Tan said: "Some companies have the policy not to talk about it but once you declare it to them, they become unfavourable towards you." 
Jean Chong, co-founder of lesbian group Sayoni, said: "Singapore is very backward in this aspect, so it is good that major financial institutions are taking the lead." 
"But the world is changing and, sooner or later, this will no longer be a big deal."
 
This drew a response from Minister for Social and Family Development, Mr Chan Chun Sing, who wrote on hisFacebook page:
A number of Singaporeans read a recent newspaper article on the recruitment practice of a multinational company here, and asked for my views… 
SG is a largely conservative society. While different groups may express their different points of view, everyone should respect the sensitivities of others and not create division. 
Singapore and Singaporeans will decide on the norms for our society. Foreign companies here should respect local culture and context. They are entitled to decide and articulate their human resource policies, but they should not venture into public advocacy for causes that sow discord amongst Singaporeans. 
Employment in SG is based on one's merit and ability. Discrimination – be it positive or negative – whether based on race, language, religion, or sexual orientation is not aligned with our social ethos, and has no place in our society.
 
How the MyPaper promotes alternative lifestyles
Particularly worth noting is how the MyPaper promotes alternative lifestyles in the guise of reporting the news.

With some modification, I adopt Wesley J Smith's helpful highlight of how the media pushes its agenda in a few simple steps:

  1. Make sure the headline promotes the LGBT agenda, particularly important since many won’t read the story;
  2. Sing praises of a company which is so "inclusive" and philanthropic;
  3. Warn about the horrible risks of "excluding" LGBTs;
  4. If only people would open the doors to LGBTs, all its problems will be solved;
  5. Write the story as if it appears or implies that alternative lifestyles are just like any other kind of identity;
  6. Never mention the importance of family values;
  7. Don’t fairly present opposing arguments;
  8. Immediately have a hero slap down the concern;
  9. Don’t describe the horrors of how this policy of "diversity" and "inclusion" punishes those who disagree with the LGBT agenda;
  10. Assure everyone that society is "progressing" in one direction and soon this will be widely accepted.
Et voila! You have a story in which the reader is left nodding, "Of COURSE all companies should change their hiring policies to embrace alternative lifestyles."

With these in mind, let us look again at the MyPaper article and the all-too-familiar pattern:

  1. LGBT agenda in the headline: 

    "Wanted by Goldman Sachs: LGBT employees" 
     

  2. What an awesome company!
    "Goldman Sachs has been firm on being inclusive, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation, boasting a list of employee networks such as The Disability Interest Forum, The Goldman Sachs Women's Network and LGBT Network."
     
  3. Warning ahead from experts:
    "Human resource experts told My Paper that given the labour crunch, companies should be mindful about closing doors on any specific group of people."
     
  4. Here's the solution to your problems:

    "It is good for employer branding as it shows that they are open and unconventional in their approach. It can appear very attractive, especially to the younger generation."

  5. Make sexuality an identity just like race:
    "As companies strive to be globalised and be competitive in their own industry, it is imperative to have a good diversity of talent for their workplace, regardless of gender, sexuality or race," she said.
     
  6. Never mention the importance of family values: CHECK!
     
  7. Any opposing arguments?
    "Many Asian or local firms remain conservative, said experts…"
     
  8. Slapdown!
    "Ms Teo said it might just be a case of being "unsure of what to expect or how to manage their interactions with co-workers", which can be resolved with open communication or adjustments in work processes, when necessary."
     
  9. Don't mention people like Brendan Eich who was forced to resign for supporting marriage between a man and a woman, exemplifying the horrors of "inclusion" and "diversity". CHECK!
     
  10. Adopt the Marxian or Hegelian assumption that society is unquestioningly "progressing" in one direction: 

    "But the world is changing and, sooner or later, this will no longer be a big deal."

 
"Sexual orientation" and hiring policy
That said, how should employment law handle "sexual orientation"?

As a matter of principle, companies should be and are free to determine their own hiring policies, forming contracts and other associations according to their own values. This is based on freedom of contract.

 
A company should have the right to decide whether or not they wish to hire persons who lead alternative lifestyles according to their own internal policy. Ryan T Anderson writes:
While the government must respect equality before the law, private actors should be free to make reasonable judgments and distinctions—including reasonable moral judgments and distinctions—in their economic activities. Citizens should be free to live their professional lives according to their moral and religious beliefs.  
Competing interests in employment can be secured through bargaining with various employers who hold a variety of moral or religious beliefs. With respect to sexual orientation and gender identity, many companies have their own policies prohibiting consideration of such factors in employment… Other employers, though, should be free to make different policies about employment and contracts, especially when it conflicts with their moral and religious beliefs.
As was said in the article, this is a matter of "branding".
 
As discussed in a previous post, discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation" is not unconstitutional, and neither is it prohibited under international law. Furthermore, the term "sexual orientation" is a term which is unclear and ambiguous. It can refer to voluntary behaviours as well as thoughts and inclinations. In contrast with race or sex, evidence does not disclose that "sexual orientation" is an immutable trait.

The distinction between behaviours and inclinations is an important one. There are companies and charities which place a high premium on the importance of the family, that is, "one man one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit". It is essential to their work and service that they hire employees who share the same value systems and principles. (Where religious groups are concerned, there is also the dimension of religious freedom; see "What do you mean by the "secular" nature of labour laws?")

Affirmative action for LGBTs
While Goldman Sachs is entitled to hire people who lead alternative lifestyles according to its own values and principles, the effort to specifically hire LGBTs is problematic on another level. 

As the Minister intimated, this is itself a form of "positive discrimination" on the basis of "sexual orientation"; it is a form of affirmative action meant to target a certain group of people for a certain trait that is not linked to merit or ability.

This essentially discriminates against everyone else who is not lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Conclusion
Foreign investment has helped to build Singapore up, but this is no carte blanche for foreign companies to push their agendas onto this society, or to get involved in political agendas which are fundamentally opposed to the values held here. The Minister has rightly taken a stand on the matter.

While companies are entitled to decide whether or not they wish to hire persons who lead alternative lifestyles, Goldman Sachs has gone too far by advancing a form of affirmative action for LGBTs. 

At the end of the day, the question remains: Have some people become – to paraphrase George Orwell – "more equal than others"?

 

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