‘Choose the right company, be out from day one, and be a really good employee’
In a live discussion this afternoon from Davos, Switzerland, hosted by CNN’s Richard Quest, three senior business figures have voiced their thoughts on LGBT issues in the workplace, and offered an insight into their own personal journeys in the business world.
Taking part in the discussion, which was arranged by Accenture and took place at the Grandhotel Belvedere, were: Sander van 't Noordende, Group CEO – Products, Accenture; Beth A. Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair, Public Policy, E&Y; and Antonio Simoes, Chief Executive Officer, UK at HSBC Bank plc.
All three are in Davos for the World Economic Forum, which has attracted hundreds of representatives from the world’s financial services industries, politicians and policy-makers.
All three are now out at work, but choose to come out at different times. Van 't Noordende says he came out at 19, while Simoes – who recently topped the Out at Work Top 50 – a listing of influential LGBT business people, says he has been out at each of his last three companies: McKinsey & Company, Goldman Sachs and HSBC.
Brooke-Marciniak, on the other hand, only came out around three years ago. She admitted that she had spent the rest of her career in the closet, and was unsure how many people were previously aware of her sexuality – particularly as she had been married to a man for 15 years earlier in her life.
Despite their different coming out stories, all three were now very aware of their responsibility as role models, and how important it is for employers elsewhere in their respective companies to see successful senior leaders who are open about their sexuality.
Quest put it to them that if people in the c-suite (CEOs, CIOs, etc) were now talking about the LGBT agenda, was it because they were truly engaged with the issue or was it because some people felt that they had to be seen to engage with it?
Simoes agreed that there was an element of it being ‘fashionable’, but that it could also be taken as a barometer of how progressive a company was. If a company is accepting of LGBT issues, it was likely to accepting in a much broader sense.
Van 't Noordende felt that more people were waking up to the fact that embracing LGBT issues was not merely about enticing the best people to your company, but getting the best out of the people you already have.
‘One in three in America hide their sexuality. Seventy-five per cent in Switzerland. That’s the issue.’
Brooke-Marciniak agreed, saying that the c-suite, ‘care about growth and talent. … if a lot of your workforce are in the closet,’ then a significant proportion, ‘are likely to leave.’
Quest said that some people watching the debate may think that it’s OK for senior leaders to be out, but it’s more difficult when you’re trying to climb a particular career ladder. He pointed out that Brooke-Marciniak herself had waited a long time before deciding to talk about her sexuality.
‘I just thought my private life was my private life, but that was the dumbest thing I ever thought,’ she replied, saying that she was now aware of many young people who come out when they are younger, but then go back in the closet when they join the workforce.
She revealed that she was personally moved to come out when she was asked to take part in a video for the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, to help combat the alarming rate in LGBT teen suicides. Initially, she was asked to take part as a straight ally.
‘I thought, reading the script, I can’t do it.’ She made the decision there and then to be open about her sexuality.
Van 't Noordende, who heralds from the Netherlands, when asked who his role models were, revealed that, ‘My uncle and his partner, who showed me that you can be out and succeed in business.
‘I came out for authenticity,’ said Simoes. ‘I also came out because I didn’t want it to be used against me. And the third reason, it is good for business; you become more authentic and empathetic.’
All three were asked how important they regarded Apple CEO, Tim Cook’s, coming out last autumn.
Brooke-Marciniak said it was, ‘Very important… some people were waiting for a backlash but it didn’t happen.’
Van 't Noordende agreed that Cook’s announcement was a ‘big deal’, even though many people had previously been aware of his sexuality. Simoes agreed: ‘He was out in his private life, and the fact that he came out was fantastic, but we also need people who have been out throughout their career – we need those role models too. Tim Cook is important because there are other senior leaders out there who are not out, and it’s important to see that you can come out later in your life.’
All three agreed that international companies had a responsibility to protect their LGBT employees in countries that don’t have a good record on LGBT rights, and to make their values clear to those with whom they work in those countries. At the same time, they felt that organizations must be careful to respect local customs and culture if they hope to engage with local leaders.
All three were asked what advice they might give to young employers.
‘Be out from day one,’ said van 't Noordende, ‘and behave naturally.’
‘Value your difference … Pay attention to the organisation,’ added Brooke-Marciniak. ‘Make sure its values align with yours, and if they don’t, don’t join.’
Simoes agreed and went further: ‘Choose the right company, be out from day one, and be a really good employee. You need to have that personal confidence … If you’re not confident, fake it and you’ll become confident.’
And how do you avoid becoming known purely as the gay CEO, asked Quest to Simoes.
‘Deliver as a professional,’ he replied, before adding, ‘If, in 20 years, I am remembered as a gay CEO, but that helps some 22-year-old in some country somewhere, I would be more proud than any banking product I launch. It’s a positive, not a negative.’
You can read Sander van 't Noordende’s full blog post about this event here.
Watch the full Accenture LGBT panel discussion here.
This has been reposted from Gay Star News.