Cook isn’t the first CEO to come out. John Browne, who served as the CEO of BP (BP) from 1995 to 2007, acknowledged he was gay after he was forced to leave office
In 2002, the Human Rights Campaign launched its Corporate Equality Index, confirming sexual equality as a human right. Only 13 out of 319 companies achieve a perfect score of 100 per cent
While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven't publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me. Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It's made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It's been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It's also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you're the CEO of Apple.”
These are excerpts from Tim Cook’s piece for the Bloomberg Businessweek1. The Apple Chief, who interestingly was named the most powerful LGBT person on OUT magazine’s 2013 Power List2, is the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to be out while holding the office. This has truly been a landmark moment for the gay community and the business world.
Cook said that he has long been open about his sexual orientation, but had not discussed it publicly. A year ago, Cook had announced support for a federal law – the Employment Nondiscrimination Act –that decided to ban gay discrimination. I applaud @WhiteHouse decision to ban #LGBT discrimination at fed contractors. House must act on #ENDA. A matter of basic human dignity. — Tim Cook (@tim_cook) June 17, 2014
Cook isn’t the first CEO to come out. John Browne, who served as the CEO of BP (BP) from 1995 to 2007, acknowledged he was gay after he was forced to leave office. He resigned when a former boyfriend outed him. He has written a book “The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good Business”. Other CEOs who are out of the closet include Christopher Bailey, CEO at Burberry, Nick Denton, founder and publisher of Gawker Media Group, Robert Greenblatt, chairman at NBC Entertainment, Robert Hanson, CEO at John Hardy and Anthony Watson, chief information officer at Nike.
Silicon Valley CEOs and friends from the business world rallied around Cook. (See Twitter Box). Life has never been easy for the LGBT community. Browne who exhorted the gay community to bring their “whole selves to work” warned that this would happen only when corporate leaders create an environment where people feel comfortable about coming out. Qualified workers were finding themselves out of a job or faced constant discrimination at work at various levels because of their sexual orientation. While some writers argued that it was widely known that Cook was gay and being the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world actually made it easier for him to come out, it is not the case with the majority.
At least 29 states in the US can hire or fire someone based on their sexual orientation. Jim (name changed), a 25-year-old information engineer, says fear of being discriminated drove him to closet. He leads two lives: One with his partner and one where his colleagues at work don’t know about his “other side”. While he believes that his manager would not fire him, Jim says he didn’t want to take any chances.
Many workers hide their sexuality as they still have acute anxiety over how their colleagues will view them. The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy collated many surveys to find out the extent of the discrimination faced by gay and transgender workers at the workplace.
Here are their findings:
- 15 per cent to 43 per cent of gay and transgender workers have experienced some form of discrimination on the job.
- 8 per cent to 17 per cent of gay and transgender workers report being passed over for a job or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- 10 per cent to 28 per cent received a negative performance evaluation or were passed over for a promotion because they were gay or transgender.
- 7 per cent to 41 per cent of gay and transgender workers were verbally or physically abused or had their workplace vandalized.
But, coming out has helped many. A research by Center for Talent Innovation, a non-profit think tank based in New York City, shows that 85 per cent of Fortune 500 companies have protective policies that address sexual orientation—up from 51 per cent in 2000. Nonetheless, surveys show that many LGBT employees still view their sexual orientation as a hindrance on the job: Fully 48 per cent of LGBT respondents report remaining “closeted” at work. Center for Talent Innovation is as a thought leader in diversity and talent management, driving ground breaking research and seeding programs and practices that attract, retain and accelerate the new streams of talent around the world.
Cook said that his home state Alabama was too slow on equality for the LGBT community. “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,” he told Associated Press in an interview.
In fact, in the US, Apple was one of the nearly 300 companies that had signed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the repeal of Doma – the Defense of Marriage Act (Doma), which barred same-sex couples from receiving federal marriage benefits. Companies opposing Doma before the court include Alcoa, Cisco, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Exelon, Goldman Sachs, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Levi Strauss, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, Pfizer, Qualcomm, REI, Twitter, UBS, Viacom and Xerox.
History is replete with major instances where coming out has proved to be costly to the LGBT community. The Guardian4 had put together some of the most pathbreaking moments: In 1981, tennis star Billie Jean King admitted to having a lesbian affair with her former secretary. She lost $2 million in endorsements overnight. In April 1997, Comedian Ellen Degeneres comes out as a lesbian to great fanfare, first on the cover of Time, then on her sitcom. Despite her continued popularity, the show is cancelled. In 2002, the Human Rights Campaign launched its Corporate Equality Index, confirming sexual equality as a human right. Only 13 out of 319 companies achieve a perfect score of 100 per cent. The index leads to the inclusion of LGBT-friendly jobs as a category on career and jobs websites, such as Simply Hired in June 2006. However, the tide seems to be turning slowly. Twelve years later, 366 companies from 781 participants earned a perfect 100 percent score, earning the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality”. Not only the number of participating companies had gone up, but also the companies with the 100 per cent score.
In Russia, they dismantled a Steve Jobs memorial in the form of an iPhone statue. In June 2013, the Russian parliament voted 436-0 to formalize a federal law that banned gay propaganda and made it illegal to distribute material pertaining to gay rights. Anyone in violation of the law faces fines of up to 100,000 roubles. In the case of organizations, the fine will shoot up to one million roubles. Authorities will also shut down operations for a period of 90 days.
Closer home, in India, the situation is still murky. On December 11, 2013, the Supreme Court of India overruled the 2009 verdict of the Delhi High Court that decriminalized homosexuality. It upheld the colonial-era law, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which punishes those found guilty of “unnatural” offences. In April this year, the SC however recognized transgenders or eunuchs as the third category of gender and directed the Centre and states to grant them all facilities including voters ID, passport and driving licences. The Centre and states were also directed to take steps for bringing the community into the mainstream by providing adequate healthcare, education and employment. While many companies have put LGBT-specific HR practices in place, stigma continues to dog homosexuals and not many are willing to come out. Companies such as Apple, Orbitz, Nike, IBM, Microsoft, Google and Infosys have played an active role in driving social change: supporting internal LGBT employee groups, fighting anti-gay legislation and calling for federal workplace protections.
The voice of the LGBT community has been growing in the past decade. Even though a lot of states and countries alike have come forward to recognize the needs and aspirations of the queer, it won’t happen until there is a concerted effort both by the community and the businesses to make the world a better place to work in.
Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO, Facebook
Thank you Tim for showing what it means to be a real, courageous and authentic leader.
Satya Nadella @satyanadella
Inspired by @tim_cook: “Life’s most persistent & urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’" http://buswk.co/1yJeXGS via @BW
Sundar Pichai @sundarpichai
@om @tim_cook really inspiring and this will make a difference
Richard Branson @richardbranson
Inspirational words from Apple CEO Tim Cook on being gay, and standing up for equality http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-10-30/tim-cook-im-proud-to-be-gay …
Bill Clinton @billclinton
From one son of the South and sports fanatic to another, my hat's off to you, @Tim_cook. http://buswk.co/1tSzQjR
Fortune Magazine @FortuneMagazine
Tim Cook: 'I'm gay.' In 29 states you can be fired for saying the same http://for.tn/1wIjFUU
The Gay Burn Book @SouthernHomo
You may not care that Tim Cook came out, but some young closeted gay kid just realized he can be gay and run a multinational company someday
Siri, tell Tim Cook he's a stud.
Ellen DeGeneres @TheEllenShow
@Tim_Cook, CEO of one of the biggest companies on Earth, is proud to be gay. And I’m proud of him. http://ellen.tv/1sLYIDt