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Former BP CEO Makes the Business Case for LGBT Equality

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday July 2nd, 2014 | 13 Comments

LGBT Rainbow FlagA few years before Tony Hayward resigned as head of BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the previous BP CEO, John Browne, was forced to bow out from the company over a much different scandal: He was outed as gay by a British tabloid. Now the former executive has written a book about his experience, “The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out Is Good Business,” and is advocating for the rights of gays and lesbians in the workplace.

Released in May, “The Glass Closet” details Browne’s double life as a CEO and a closeted gay man and tells the stories of other gay and lesbian professionals coming out at work. The book concludes with an open letter to CEOs about why promoting an inclusive environment for LGBT employees isn’t solely a civil rights issue or moral imperative for companies – it’s a smart business decision.

“Inclusion creates a level playing field, which allows the best talent to rise to the top,” Browne writes, in a book excerpt published in Fast Company.

In order for employees to do great work, they can’t devote a quarter of their brain power to hiding their sexual orientation, Browne writes; employees perform best when they are applying their whole brain to their job. Browne points to studies that show an LGBT-friendly work environment can increase productivity up to 30 percent, in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.

LGBT inclusion cannot only help companies nurture and retain their top workers, but it can also assist them in recruiting talent. In one survey, around 80 percent of gay and lesbian Americans said that when they were applying for a job, it was “very important” or “fairly important” for the potential employer to have an LGBT equality and diversity policy in place, Browne writes. When the same survey was carried out in the United Kingdom, 72 percent of respondents agreed.

Wall Street has taken notice, Browne says: After Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein appeared in a Human Rights Campaign video supporting same-sex marriage in 2012, he admitted that his political stance caused his firm to lose at least one major client. But Blankfein defended his video appearance to the media, explaining that an accepting work environment attracts top-notch employees and implying that this recruitment strategy is more important than driving off a customer.

But can a pro-LGBT workplace result in higher profits? Starbucks announced its support for marriage equality in 2012, Browne writes, leading to a strong boycott and social media campaign from an anti-same-sex-marriage group. A year after the backlash, an angry shareholder addressed the company’s annual shareholder meeting, blaming the coffee giant’s political position for its less-than-stellar earnings in the quarter after the campaign. In response, Starbucks Chairman and Chief Executive Howard Schultz said that, “Not every decision is an economic decision …We employ over 200,000 people in this company, and we want to embrace diversity. Of all kinds.”

Browne is careful to differentiate between diversity and inclusion: “Having a certain number of employees from diverse backgrounds will do little to help a business unless those employees are made to feel welcome and valued,” he writes. Policies that formalize a company’s pro-LGBT stance are a good place to start, according to Browne: Guidelines can be tracked and measured against existing laws and other companies’ commitments to workplace inclusion.

The working world is changing, slowly becoming more welcoming to gay and lesbian individuals, Browne says. He notes that in 2002, 61 percent of Fortune 500 companies prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, and only 3 percent banned gender-identity discrimination. By 2014, these numbers jumped dramatically, with 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies including sexual orientation in their corporate anti-discrimination policies and 61 percent including gender identity.

But Browne says we still have a long way to go before the workplace is truly equal for LGBT workers. Many of the individuals he interviewed for his book wished to remain anonymous, he told Bloomberg Businessweek, and there are currently no publicly gay chief executives at any Fortune 500 company, the New York Times reported.

Browne hopes “The Glass Closet” will open up a discussion about LGBT inclusion in the workplace and has launched GlassCloset.org to continue the conversation, encouraging gay and lesbian professionals to submit their own personal stories about coming out at work.

“As an executive in business, I did not have an openly gay role model to whom I could aspire,” Browne writes on the website. “That is why I launched GlassCloset.org, as a place for people to share their stories and to become role models for those struggling with a hidden life.”

Browne has continued to achieve professional and personal success after his resignation from BP, according to the New York Times — he is a partner at a private equity firm, serves as a member of the House of Lords and found love with a man who wrote him a letter after his resignation – but he wishes he hadn’t lived so much of his life in the closet.

“I wish I had been brave enough to come out earlier during my tenure as chief executive of BP,” he writes on GlassDoor.org. “I regret it to this day.”

Image credit: Flickr/Kevin Goebel

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru


▼▼▼      13 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • nightingale

    The constitution and its amendments have not changed in the last few years, and there have been no breakthrough scientific discoveries relative to homosexuality. So what has changed so that the courts are interpreting the constitution, particularly the 14th Amendment, radically differently in the last few years?

    In the modern era, the push for same-sex marriage started with radical feminists in Scandinavia who believed that women did not need men, children did not need fathers, and marriage entailed the enslavement of women and so they wanted to eliminate marriage entirely. They knew they could not achieve their goal immediately and believed the path to success was to expand marriage to same-sex couples so that marriage would, over time, lose its meaning and purpose and eventually fade away, disappearing with nothing more than a whimper.

    The radical feminists succeeding in getting Scandinavians to adopt same-sex marriage, but the consequences weren’t quite what they intended. Marriage among heterosexual couples did begin to decline, but the decline has been slow and marriage has not disappeared as rapidly as they had hoped. Instead, something completely unexpected happened. The political left in countries which adopted same-sex marriage became confused, disorganized, and enfeebled, as the leftist parties began to focus on gender and sexuality issues rather than on shared goals of the common people based on labor, consumer, economic, and environmental issues, and many of the men abandoned the left as it became gender- and sexuality-obsessed and lesbian-dominated. Wealthy and corporate elites of the West took notice of this, and, in a move to increase their political power relative to the left, they subsequently began to push for greater homosexual rights and for same-sex marriage in countries all over the world (the push can be overt or subtle, sometimes just supporting or promoting certain social scientists or their theories). Not all elites went along, as some worried that such a radical change could imperil all of human society, including the welfare of the elites. However, enough did so that, when they added their power to that of radical feminist groups and gay groups generally, they could achieve a rapid and powerful cultural and political shift.

    It may seem confusing that in the US the Democratic Party, the less right-wing of the two major parties, is the one in support of same-sex marriage, but only if one fails to realize that corporate elites have completely taken over the Democratic Party in the last few decades and the resistance of the Republicans is based on their dependence on the votes of social conservatives.

    The Chinese, Russians, and Indians are resisting this shift, as their elites are more nationalist and are concerned with the welfare of their entire nations, but the Western, corporate-dominated nations are all on board.

    • Dave Shires

      What in the world are you talking about?

      • disqus_RmiHk0NN5O

        It’s rather obvious to me. Try reading it again. Let me help you – It’s an anit-SSM post.

  • disqus_RmiHk0NN5O

    “Former BP CEO Makes the Business Case for LGBT Equality”

    And I’m sure Lot made a business case for moving his tent toward Sodom and Gomorrah. Look how that turned out.

    • David Flint

      Well from what I remember Lot ended up drunk and having sex with his daughters. I always thought that was a strange way to end a tale about morality and the “one righteous man” who was spared the destruction of the cities.

      BTW you might want to check your scripture a bit more closely. The sin of Sodom was it’s inhospitality. Ezekiel 16:49

      New International Version
      “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

      New Living Translation
      Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door.

      English Standard Version
      Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

      New American Standard Bible
      “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.

  • David Flint

    I have always noticed the hypocrisy of the anti-gays. They are fine firing someone for BEING gay but raise a stink if someone is fired for opposing gays, like that lady from the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

  • Joel Busher

    Plato said that homosexuality
    is an outrage, a violation of nature. Acceptance of this unnatural act is a
    turning of society upside down. We see this turning upside down today.
    The ancient Spartan’s demonstrated that the spirit of homosexuality is a
    predator, pedophile spirit. We see this today as advocates of this
    transgression are now encouraging cross generational homosexual sex; sex
    between adults and children. Scripture says it’s a capital offense, an
    unspeakable transgression. When the spirit of homosexuality takes over a community,
    justice is completely perverted. God left a warning to the nations that allow
    themselves to be corrupted by such a spirit: Sodom, Gomorrah, and Pompeii were
    all destroyed by fire for the sin of homosexuality. A community’s attempt to
    encourage and legalize this perversion will result in God’s wrath in the nature
    of fire and utter destruction. The hope of the nations and for the
    protection of children from state sanctioned rape is the enacted justice
    of God. People do not have to act out their sinful passions. Jesus said,
    “deny yourself.”

    The ancients considered chastity a virtue and godlike. If you’re caught in this
    sin call on the name of the Lord for your release, and be saved from the coming
    wrath of God. Plato writes in his Laws,” the crime of male with male, or female
    with female, is an outrage on nature and a capital surrender to lust of
    pleasure.” Google – Article VIII Union of Holy Assemblies – making God’s law
    American law.

    • Gary Douglas

      Guess you haven’t figured out that this is 2014, not 214.

  • Peter Rudy

    If being a HOMOSEXUAL or LESBIAN was normal , you wouldn’t have to proclaim to anyone , that you were one . As well , you wouldn’t hide the fact from anyone , that you are one .

  • Peter Rudy

    YAHOO SEARCH – ” The Homosexual Lifestyle ” , ” The Diseases of Homosexuals ” , ” Homosexuals and Their Diseases ” and last butt not least , ” 7 Scientific Facts about Homosexuality and it’s adverse effects on Society ” .

  • Peter Rudy

    YAHOO SEARCH – Homosexuals suffer from a high – rate of suicide , alcohol abuse / alcoholism , legal drug abuse / illegal drug use as well as numerous , STDS . The most profound is HIV / AIDS , where they are at the top of the list , WORLDWIDE .
    I wouldn’t say that Homosexuals are in anyway , shape or form ” gay ” . But , that they are tormented and miserable . Because even they recognize that what they are and do , is not normal or natural . Subsequently , the resort to self – destructive acts that ultimately lead to their own deaths .

    • SMHID

      Those statistics only make homophobes like you look bad. Once legal SSM is the law of the land and the Christian rhetoric continues its change those statistics WILL change.

      • Joel Busher

        Homophobia is the good and right counsel of the Holy Spirit which convicts the soul of its sin in order to save the soul from death. (Jn.16:8). It is the duty of every American to be INTOLERANT of EVIL. The legal definition of Evil is defined by America’s social compact the Declaration of Independence which declares a moral rectitude
        according to the “Supreme Judge of the world” as codified by the Ten
        Commandments. If you show tolerance to the violation of God’s law, you are a force of evil in the human community. If you uphold God’s law then you are force for good. Google – Article VIII Union of Holy Assemblies – a new Proposal to the US Constitution making God’s law American law.