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Report by JOHAN BECKER

IN mid-April of this year, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a lengthy interview with Lord Browne, pictured above, former Chief Executive of BP who was forced to resign after being “outed” in 2007 by a former boyfriend. He later headed the fracking company Cuadrilla and in 2015 moved on to become executive chairman of L1 Energy – an oil and gas firm backed by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman.

He was invited by the BBC to talk about gay people in big business, an issue he dealt with in his book The Glass Closet in which he presents a thorough range of statistics, first-hand interviews, and under-reported case studies to prove that businesses financially benefit from an inclusive attitude to the LGBT community.

Lord Browne spoke of the fear he experienced on learning he was gay, and the tormented life he led for decades inside the closet. His “outing”, though, proved a liberating experience and he found that people in general not only accepted his homosexuality, but gave him enormous support.

But he emphasised that despite the great gains made by LGBT communities in the West, business remains “pretty conservative and remains dominantly straight.” Only one CEO in the Fortune 500 list of companies, he told listeners, was openly gay: Apple’s Tim Cook.

In 2014, Lord Browne hailed Cook as “an important role model” after Mr Cook publicly acknowledged his sexuality, saying he was “proud to be gay”.

Cook made his announcement to try to help people struggling with their identity, he wrote in a Bloomberg Businessweek article.

Cook also challenged his home state of Alabama to ensure the rights of gay and transgender people.
 

Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'proud to be gay'.

“While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now,” he wrote.

“So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me,” he added.

He said he didn’t consider himself an activist, but that he realised he had “benefited from the sacrifice of others.”

“So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy,” he added.

Cook said that he had been open about his sexuality with many people, including colleagues at Apple, but that it still “wasn’t an easy choice” to publicly announce his sexual orientation.

Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC News technology correspondent wrote at the time: “Tim Cook’s announcement may come as no surprise in Silicon Valley or across corporate America.

“But that does not mean that we should underestimate the significance of the leader of the world’s most valuable company talking openly about his sexuality.

“Back in May 2014, a piece in The New York Times asked “where are the gay chief executives?” and struggled to name any openly gay CEOs at America’s 1,000 biggest companies.

“Apple under Steve Jobs was not a company that took a stand on any issues which were not seen as relevant to its business.

“Tim Cook has been more forthcoming on all sorts of issues, including equal rights for gay workers, and while he says he does not see himself as an activist, that is how many will now see him.

“That could embroil him in controversy in the United States, let alone in other parts of the world with less liberal views of sexuality.

“Mr Cook admitted that going public as a gay man was not an easy choice – but it certainly looks a courageous one.”

“He said that Alabama had been too slow to ensure the rights of ethnic minorities in the civil rights era, and was now being too slow to guarantee gay rights.”

Cook said: “Under the law, citizens of Alabama can still be fired based on their sexual orientation. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it and we can create a different future.”

Cellan-Jones added: “Mr Cook has championed equality at Apple, but in August [2014] said he was ‘not satisfied’ with workforce diversity at the company.”

And he pointed out that many LGBT people in the UK felt it was “safer to stay in the closet” when at work.

In May a US study by LGBT organisation Human Rights Campaign suggested that 53 percent of US LGBT employees had not come out at work.

Lord Browne said: “By deciding to speak publicly about his sexuality, Tim Cook has become a role model, and will speed up changes in the corporate world.”

In reviewing Lord Browne’s book for The Independent in 2014, Mark Leftly wrote: “As Lord Browne argues, ‘diversity and inclusion are not the same thing’ and the companies that understand the differentiation will have a more productive workforce and reach a wider audience. ‘The LGBT population, traditionally under-served by marketers, present a meaningful and often sizeable opportunity,’ writes the author, pointing out the buying power of the US LGBT market grew from $743bn (£442m) in 2010 to $830bn (£648bn) last year.

“Lord Browne is clearly at his most comfortable, and certainly at his most fluent, when he takes a cold, hard look at the facts. It is here that references to, and quotes from, senior figures in world business feel relevant rather than just a name-dropping exercise to convince the world that, yes, Lord Browne has a first-class contacts book.”

Writing for The Financial Times in 2014, Adam Jones said: “This slim book expands on Lord Browne’s 2010 memoir Beyond Business, which briefly touched on the debilitating experience of having to hide part of his identity from colleagues for four decades. The new account is bolstered by interviews with others who have been through similar experiences and paints his double life as a cautionary tale, not a ‘workable blueprint for a business career’.

“During his early years at the oil and gas group, the young manager felt obliged to tag along when colleagues went to watch women ‘wiggle around’ in strip clubs on work trips. He found the whole thing ‘appalling’ but felt it was imperative to blend in.

“On a rare foray into a New York gay bar in the 1970s, he describes how he bumped into a colleague and was left terrified that this might lead to broader exposure at work: ‘I could not imagine that anyone else in the office would be gay . . . I wanted to sink through the floor.’ The prose is terse but you feel for him.

“Promotion to the top job made it harder to reconcile the different elements of his life, not least because BP’s high-profile purchase of Amoco meant security staff were next door as he slept while in the US. ‘The closet door was now nailed shut,’ he observes.

“In 2006 he had an opportunity to tear out those nails during an appearance on the BBC radio show 'Desert Island Discs'. Coming out then would certainly have been more dignified than the tabloid assault a year later.

“But the veteran manager held his tongue. Conditioned by the hostile attitudes of the society of his youth, he had failed to appreciate that his secret had lost its power to shock most people in the UK.”

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