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The Future of Diversity with Kayla Wong

Our world is changing at a rapid pace – what does the future hold for diversity and inclusion?

Kayla Wong, founder and creative director of ethical fashion brand Basics for Basics, is an LGBT+ activist and philanthropist. Since moving back from Los Angeles, she has worked with multiple charities to promote diversity and inclusion in Hong Kong. Here, the 27-year-old entrepreneur tells us how she thinks we can create a more equal and accepting world…

Hi Kayla! You’re very outspoken about LGBT+ issues – what inspires you to do so?

Kayla: Well, first of all, I’m part of the LGBT+ community. Having studied in LA, where I was greatly influenced by the culture and by my friends, I became very comfortable with who I am. But when I came back to Hong Kong, I noticed a lack of inclusivity when it came to embracing one’s sexual preferences. Many of my friends from the LGBT+ community here were not out to their family members – they weren’t comfortable being themselves even around their own families! So I wanted to kickstart a movement to promote the ideas of diversity and inclusion, and ultimately, basic human rights.
“We, as a city, are capable of becoming more open-minded and embracing differences.”
What do diversity and inclusion mean to you, in the first place?
Kayla: It’s just about being human, regardless of age, gender, sexual preference…It also includes those with special needs. We are all born the same way, so why shouldn’t we all be able to get the same opportunities? In Hong Kong, especially now, I feel that we’ve become more and more divided, but let’s not forget we’re all part of the same planet, and we should be supporting each other and not tearing each other down.

What do you think of Hong Kong’s progress on this front, then?

Kayla: I do think there has been some progress. There are more people fighting for the cause and as a group, we’ve been less afraid to make our voices heard. Last year, a same-sex couple won a case on spousal benefits – that was a big win for us. Of course, there’s still a lot to be done. For example, marriage equality was passed in the US, followed by Europe and Taiwan; meanwhile, Hong Kong is still behind on that front. But overall, with the younger generation of the city becoming more accepting, I think we’re moving in the right direction.
What kind of changes do you expect to see in the future?
Kayla: It’s hard to say what path we’re going down, but if you look at the world, people are being more and more open to the idea of not using labels for human beings. Many are starting to use pronouns like “they”. I think sooner or later, this will catch on in Hong Kong, and if somebody wants to be addressed as a non-binary person, we’ll have to respect that. We, as a city, are capable of becoming more open-minded and embracing differences. We’re evolving and pushing the boundaries every day.

So, how do we drive change?

Kayla: Having media representation can bring a sense of belonging and normality, that we no longer need to hide in the shadows. I hope that in the future, brands and media in Hong Kong can step it up and include every kind of person. Whether it’s someone with a stronger physique, or somebody in a wheelchair, they should all be represented in our media because we’re all part of the community.

What else can we do?

Kayla: We can make a far bigger impact together by raising public awareness, which is why I collaborate with groups such as Pink Dot, the largest LGBT+ event in Hong Kong. Lately I’ve been working with The Wild Lot, a new creative space for community building. We’ll be running workshops and events like movie screenings and artwork displays to celebrate diversity. I’ve also done annual pride campaigns for my brand Basics for Basics; this year, our campaign featured a friend’s special needs daughter to deliver the message that equality covers every kind of human being.
And in terms of the workplace, how can we create a more inclusive culture at work?
Kayla: I don’t have a huge team, but I try to have open conversations with employees and partners that I work with. I want them to know they are heard and that I understand them.

In the Asian culture, many are afraid to voice out. What company leaders can do is create a channel of communication by setting up a hotline or a special email that provides support and advice. Some large corporations also have support groups where people can share their ideas and feelings – I think it’s a great idea as it can help create a safe space and build a community of trust within the organisation.

And if you’re not in a position where you can set these things up, you can still make others feel included by, say, inviting someone to eat together if you see them left alone at lunch. Treat everyone the same way as you would your friends. Sometimes, small gestures can make big differences.

So all in all, what is being supportive all about?
Kayla: At the end of the day, it’s about communication and respect. Now, every family has their own way of communicating, but one direct way for parents to show support is to just say, “I’m here for you.” Never underestimate the power of this simple line, as it may just give your loved one the courage that they need to be themselves completely.

Follow Kayla on Instagram @kaylaiw for more.

What’s the Future of Food? Find out with Janice Leung Hayes, food writer and social entrepreneur. Stay tuned for more insight from our panel of tastemakers. Next instalment: The Future of Wellness with Samantha Wong.
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