At Fortune 500 companies, top leadership continues to be overwhelmingly “pale and male,” Sylvia Ann Hewlett writes in a post for Bloomberg.com. People of color hold a mere 11 percent of top leadership positions, while women account for only 5 percent of CEOs. There are even fewer openly LGBT professionals heading up major corporations. What this all means, Hewlett writes, is that for many ambitious workers, the old adage “be yourself” simply doesn’t register as good advice.
As Hewlett writes in her book Executive Presence: The Missing Link between Merit and Success, moving up the corporate ladder has largely to do with showing “executive presence” (EP). You’ve got to carry yourself in such a way that you’re perceived to be a leader, and according to research by the Center for Talent Innovation, the push for EP has led many people of color, women, and members of the LGBT community to hide who they are at work, lest they hurt their chances of advancement.
Roughly 41 percent of LGBT respondents said they’re not out at work, Hewlett writes, and many men (23 percent) and women (15 percent) believe that passing as straight — i.e. hiding all aspects of their sexuality from coworkers — has helped them in their careers. What’s more, 41 percent of non-white workers said they feel compelled to “compromise their authenticity” in order to attain EP.
As workers stifle who they are and attempt to conform to male, white norms, Hewlett writes, companies are missing out on the benefits that come with diversity. In todays globalized, hyper-competitive business climate, she writes, “your inherent difference can make you a valuable asset to teams — and leaders — who can benefit from the unique perspective that difference confers.”
CTI data bears this out, as does anecdotal evidence. As Hewlett reports, on openly gay financial advisor at Morgan Stanley earned his company $120 million by leading an accreditation campaign for estate planning for domestic partners. The initiative was successful, Hewlett reports, because affluent LGBTers appreciated the opportunity to work with those who understand their unique situation.
Ultimately, Hewlett says, if a company is going to thrive in today’s world, it “absolutely needs you to bring your whole self to work.”