In his new book “The Glass Closet,” former BP CEO John Browne writes candidly about his experiences as a gay man in big business. When he resigned from the company in 2007, following a scandal involving a male escort, he described his sexuality as “a personal matter, to be kept private,” but he’s since changed his mind, and he now wishes he’d come out sooner.
“The reactions of friends and colleagues have shown that my worst fears would not have come true,” Browne writes in a piece for Fortune. “But my desire to keep my private life led me to make some terrible errors of personal judgement, and I had no choice but to resign from the company that had structured my entire professional life.”
The subtitle of his book is “Why Coming Out Is Good Business,” and in the Fortune piece, Browne outlines three ways companies can help make themselves more friendly to LGBT workers. Ultimately, he says, it’s up to LGBT to overcome their fears — “Only they can decide to live a unified private and public life,” Browne writes — but he tasks the straight community with creating an “environment of acceptance.” Below are three ways Browne says firms can accomplish this mission.
1. Talk About Acceptance — Even if a company has a diverse workforce and culture of openness, Browne says, CEOs can make a big difference by talking about LGBT inclusion. They should “broadcast their beliefs,” as that sets the tone for everything else that follows.
2. Walk the Walk — Of course, talking about LGBT inclusion isn’t enough. As Browne writes, a third of Fortune 500 companies still fail to give same-sex couples the same health benefits as their straight counterparts, and that’s just one area in which employers need to promote equal treatment. “Equality and inclusion requires straight leaders to think beyond the structures, which have traditionally defined the way companies operate,” Browne writes.
3. Create “Allies Programs” — It’s terrific when corporate execs give their support to LGBT workers, but what about everyone else? Brown advocates the creation of “allies programs” that enable straight workers to show support for their LGBT peers. “These groups are most effective when they make a conscious effort to stamp out ‘micro-inequalities,’ such as the assumption that every man is married to a woman, or the practice of not asking gay people about their partners in case it makes them feel uncomfortable,” he writes. “These are small gestures, but the signal they send to someone in the closet is enormous.”