“Trying to change something is always better than just letting it be”.
This maxime from Inga Beale not just represents a business principle, but is also the formula for success when it comes to inclusive and welcoming people management. In 2014 – after 327 years of company history – Beale was the first woman at the top of the insurance and reinsurance company Lloyd’s of London. She opposed the corporate environment that had been shaped by straight white men, and created a culture that is inclusive and welcomes members from the LGBT*IQ community. At the 2019 dinner night of the PROUT AT WORK foundation she talked about corporate responsibility and how companies can change societies for the better.
For the fourth time, the PROUT AT WORK Foundation invited senior executives from major German and international enterprises and institutions as well as the auditing firm Ernst & Young for their joint DINNER BEYOND BUSINESS in Düsseldorf. Attendees included representatives from Metro AG Continental, BASF, Boehringer Ingelheim, RWE, Google, UniCredit Bank, Nestlé, OTTO, thyssenkrupp, KPMG, Commerzbank and IBM.
The high-profile company representatives enjoyed the view over the Rhine from the GAP15 skyscraper in Düsseldorf while having a first-class dinner in a casual ambience and listening to the inspiring talk from Lloyd’s director Inga Beale.
“Taunts” are defined as the exchange of teasing comments. This is also how the lyrics of fan songs of the football team of Brighton & Hove Albion, South England, are referred to. However, these lyrics are really homophobic. Brighton is considered to be particularly tolerant of LGBT*IQ, and that’s why many people choose to live there. Calling these lyrics “taunts” is just an excuse for people to say things they should not say – with this statement Beale started her dinner talk.
“When there were such songs in the 2013/14 football season, some fans and also some of the filmmakers and police officers found them funny. But for others, they were scary and offensive.”
That was five years ago. “Today, of course, it’s better,” says Beale and winks to the audience. She receives ironic laughter – because everyone knows that not much has changed since then.
“The same thing happened again in a match against Brighton this month, although a referee in France had just interrupted a football match because of a homophobic banner in the fan block,” Beale says.
Of course, it is usually just the minority of the fans standing out with such homophobic slogans. “But it’s often the same minority that also spreads racist slogans, and makes the majority of visitors feel uncomfortable – although they actually love being in the stadium, because they are interested in the competition and the sport, regardless of whether any of the players might be gay.
Nevertheless, there is still no active gay football player in the UK. “Why come out if it does not bring anything?,” asks Inga Beale, the question haunting many gay sportsmen.
Similarities in sports and business
Beale does not start her talk with a soccer story by chance: How athletes are treated in sports competitions really represents how employees are treated in the competitive business world. “Is acceptance and inclusivity in business actually better than in sports?”
For Inga Beale, who began her career in 1982 as an underwriter for international reinsurance at the London-based Prudential Assurance Company, answering such questions is not all about gut feeling. It’s about numbers and facts. As a member of the Stonewall’s Development Council she has access to data that is regularly being collected on equality and inclusion in international working life. So, of course, Beale refers to some statistics:
“Two thirds of LGBT*IQ are convinced that there is homophobia in sports, and 70 percent of football supporters have experienced discrimination. At the same time, 18 percent were confronted with negative comments from colleagues at work. About a third of them therefore hide their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Although Beale led the OUTstanding list of the top LGBT*IQ business personalities last October and was first on the Financial Times top 100 queer executives list in 2015, she also had to deal with such negative experiences at the beginning of her career.
“When I was in my twenties, I almost left my company. I was disillusioned.” For many years she tried to hide herself, kept distance and even told her longtime partner not to call her at work so she would not come out inadvertently. In 2008, she took her fate into her own hands and came out. “Leading two parallel lives made me sick.” This was like a heavy burden falling off her shoulders.
Dare to change
In 2014, Inga Beale was appointed as the first female CEO at Lloyd’s and became the main driver for creating a culture of diversity and inclusion in the international insurance industry.
In 2015, for example, she launched the Dive-In Festival as a global initiative to promote diversity in this industry. The goal of this event is to give employees the opportunity to tap into their full potential and, at the same time, show decision-makers the business case for looking beyond the traditional definition of diversity.
Since then, the three-day festival in September has been a platform for contemplation and conversations around gender, age, cultural background, sexual orientation, social mobility, beliefs, caring responsibilities, mental health, and physical constraints related to talent development and professional growth.
The truth is: “People who are afraid can never give their best,” says Inga Beale as it turns dark over Düsseldorf in front of the windows of the E & Y floor. Creating an inclusive work environment should therefore not only be a top priority for every executive, but for all employees.
Those who consistently pursue this goal can also change a huge sector like the insurance industry within only 5 years towards being significantly inclusive and LGBT*IQ welcoming.
“I was the first CEO at Lloyd’s that talked about LGBT*IQ. Before there has always been a lack of women and everyone was white. People started to giggle when I used the word “lesbian”, for example. But I kept doing that until my staff used those words themselves and later started their own networks.” And Beale goes even further: What works in one of the most important international economic sectors can also be transferred to national societal structures.
“If global companies that operate in countries where there’s discriminations against lesbians, gays and transgender people would strongly commit to inclusion and acceptance, they could change the core of societies even there,” Beale closed her speech.
“My life changed for the better; from black/white to colourful in an instant. After 52 years.”
For the third time in a row now, senior executives of major German and international commercial enterprises and institutions had accepted the invitation of the PROUT AT WORK network and come to the financial metropolis of Frankfurt. In a casual atmosphere, they exchanged their views about opportunities and pathways to a more open, diverse and discrimination-free workplace at the DINNER BEYOND BUSINESS over a first-class meal.<br>Among them were representatives of Continental, BASF, Vattenfall, Coca Cola, Thyssenkrupp, the European Central Bank and SAP. This year, PROUT AT WORK managed to bring Beth Brooke-Marciniak on board as a keynote speaker and, framed by the spectacular view from Germany’s tallest skyscraper, engage one of the 100 most influential women in the world in an informal personal conversation that allowed for many perceptive insights and powerful statements.
“Courageous.” That’s the word that leaps to mind when listening to Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice President Public Policy and board member at global consulting firm EY (Ernst & Young), during a fireside chat with PROUT AT WORK chairperson Albert Kehrer.
For the third time in a row now, senior executives of major German and international commercial enterprises and institutions had accepted the invitation of the PROUT AT WORK network and come to the financial metropolis of Frankfurt. In a casual atmosphere, they exchanged their views about opportunities and pathways to a more open, diverse and discrimination-free workplace at the DINNER BEYOND BUSINESS over a first-class meal.
Among them were representatives of Continental, BASF, Vattenfall, Coca Cola, Thyssenkrupp, the European Central Bank and SAP.
This year, PROUT AT WORK managed to bring Beth Brooke-Marciniak on board as a keynote speaker and, framed by the spectacular view from Germany’s tallest skyscraper, engage one of the 100 most influential women in the world in an informal personal conversation that allowed for many perceptive insights and powerful statements.
Role models – “If not me, who?”
As Beth Brooke-Marciniak relates how she had not been open about her sexual orientation for most of her life, the audience in the room are quietly thinking, “Pretty courageous.”
For in February 2011, Brooke-Marciniak participated in the “It Gets Better” video campaign that aims to encourage LGBT*IQ teenagers, and spontaneously decided to come out as a lesbian woman in front of the rolling camera.
“What would I say in this video if I was being truly honest,” she had asked herself the previous evening. “I had a message to deliver that I knew was important.”
She and her then-partner had both assumed that coming out would mean the end of her career. However, the reactions to her sensational openness were the exact opposite. “My life changed for the better; from black/white to colourful in an instant. After 52 years.”
But not just that. Her candour also changed how the business world thinks about diversity.
“Our executive level was very proud of me, I received calls and e-mails from young people and their parents and even standing ovations at a subsequent public appearance, which moved me to tears.”
With her spontaneous coming out, she had changed more in one moment than ever before in her life, role model Brooke-Marciniak explains. “I considered it my job and my duty. Who was supposed to do it if not me?”
Business case – “The market imperative”
Introducing the second topic of this year’s dinner talk, Albert Kehrer suggests that attracting the best talent is one aspect of the business-case perspective on creating an LGBT*IQ-positive working environment, and the EY executive adds: “It’s about the market imperative. We need to be as diverse as our customers are. Whether it concerns functionality, quality or innovation – that way, we’re better everywhere.”
“Studies show that corporations that focus on the importance of LGBT*IQ employees are also well positioned with regards to all other aspects of inclusion and diversity, for example in promoting women.”
Kehrer mentions that the difficulty of assessing the effects of measures that address the concerns of lesbian, gay and transgender people within a business presents a significant hurdle.
“I know,” Brooke-Marciniak replies, “in most countries, it’s not possible to identify as LGBT*IQ within a corporation.” She adds that this makes it difficult to evaluate the effect of an LGBT*IQ-positive corporate policy. “But it doesn’t matter. Because we know it’s an added value.”
Having said that, she believes that forgoing such policies because their value is not quantifiable is just an excuse.
In response to Kehrer’s pointed question whether LGBT*IQ issues should really be given such high priority within corporations, Brooke-Marciniak again responds decisively: “Studies show that corporations that focus on the importance of LGBT*IQ employees are also well positioned with regards to all other aspects of inclusion and diversity, for example in promoting women.”
Allies – “Changing the world, providing safety”
Darkness has fallen, and against the background of the lights of the Frankfurt skyline, Kehrer opens the last third of the fireside chat with the question of why it’s important for a corporation to be an LBGT*IQ ally. After all, in Great Britain as well as in the US, EY specifically supports this group of employees.
“Because we have values,” Brooke-Marciniak replies without hesitation. “All of us are active across the globe. But we have no influence on the laws of individual countries. Many of them are going in the wrong direction, even backwards, and populism is spreading. Our footprints can change the world.”
In response to Kehrer’s question how individuals in corporations can become allies of their LGBT*IQ colleagues, EY board member Brooke-Marciniak points out a host of options for getting involved: being curious and unafraid, for example. After all, she says, it’s not always about specific lesbian-gay-trans* issues but about a fundamental understanding. “One day, it could affect you, too.”
She adds that just recently, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, she had a private chat with a grateful CEO whose daughter came out as homosexual only a short while ago. Having discussed the issue previously had helped him immensely in this situation.
And, she adds, there’s also the “Wow, even him” effect when top management personalities publicly declare themselves allies of LGBT*IQ people within their corporations, facilitating a significant increase in visibility for those employees that HR departments or LGBT*IQ groups themselves could not achieve in this form.
Another important point, she says, is signalling to employees who have come out that you’re ready to help, giving them time but being at their side if needed. “Some people prefer to go back into their shell when they have the impression that they can’t trust their boss and aren’t sure whether his or her openness really means they’re safe.”
Accordingly, 70 percent of employees who haven’t come out leave a corporation over the short or long term, which is why it’s so important to start that conversation and find out what is still standing between them and their coming out.
“Above all, though, it’s important to be aware of conversations that should no longer take place the way they still do, and to say something, because people who haven’t come out yet will definitely take notice,” Beth Brooke-Marciniak concludes the conversation.
Fireplace-Chat with Beth Brooke-Marciniak:
A talk with… Claudia Brind-Woody
The cost of thinking twice
Claudia Brind-Woody is IBM Vice President and Managing Director Intellectual Property Licensing. She has worked for IBM since 1996, including various global management positions, and is a recognized speaker worldwide. In her lectures and books (Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office, 2013 and The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good for Business, 2014) she promotes an open and appreciative approach to sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace. It also advises various LGBT*IQ platforms, initiatives and institutions, including Workplace Pride, Stonewall Global Diversity Champions and Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, OUTstanding. Lambda Legal and the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Claudia Brind-Woody has been awarded the Out & Equal Trailblazer Award, and numerous international magazines list her as a global leader in the LGBT sector.
What is the D&I approach of IBM about?
Claudia Brind-Woody: We want everybody to feel welcome to succeed at IBM. If people bring their whole selves to work, they are more productive and they are more positive about the workplace and therefore our clients and shareholders benefit. The statistics of multiple studies show a 30 % productivity reduction, if people are hiding and spending their time afraid to be out at work. Afraid that being who they are is not acceptable. It is good business to make sure that folks are able to be productive at work. We want the top talent from all diversity constituencies. We encourage people to come to IBM and stay with us; we want them to advance because they are doing good work for our clients. Shall it be male or female, gay or straight; being a workplace that welcomes everyone enables us to get the best and brightest folks from all types of diversity.
What was the intent IBM addresses LGBTI?
Claudia Brind-Woody: IBM has a very long history of D&I that goes back into the 1920s. In the 1940, equal pay for equal work for women was established in the US, the first IBM diversity non-discrimination policy was established in 1953. We added sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy in 1984 and added gender identity and gender expression to that in 2000. We also even added genetic make-up to it which means that you couldn’t discriminate based on your DNA-makeup. We have been very much a leader in diversity, based on the values of our early CEOs Thomas Watson and Thomas Watson jr., where they focused on valuing the individual. That set the tone for the non-dis crimination policies. For us, valuing of diversity is different from just having diversity. I believe it is in the valuing of diversity that you get the inclusion. We are diverse. We are a global company, we have different countries and cultures and people in diversity constituencies – old and young, black and white, gay and straight, people with disabilities, people who are multicultural – so we have all kinds of differences. The question is: do you value them? That is where inclusion comes in. Are we making the work place inclusive? Back in 1984, when they were debating about adding sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy, one of our senior executives asked another senior executive: “Don’t we want to make IBM a place where everyone is welcomed to succeed?” That is the inclusion part. Everyone is welcome to succeed at IBM!
Why does IBM take care for LGBTI?
Claudia Brind-Woody: We have a really big company. It is very difficult to say by adding a LGBTI policy, share prices go up by certain figures or the like. However, we will say is that, IBM prides itself as an innovation company. All the research points to the fact that innovation comes when you have diversity. Diversity of thought comes from diversity of experiences and diversity of background. You could say that diversity of thought creates the innovation. We pride ourselves on our global technology outlook and the innovation that we do at IBM. That really comes from valuing IBMers all over the world. Now, we can also specifically point to the fact that we have a business development team that leverages LGBTI relationships for business. And they generate about 150 million dollars’ worth of business opportunities every year. That is just because of the relationship in the LGBIT business space enables us to close more deals, to have more clients, and to have an affinity with those clients. We have various programs on LGBTI business developments and they help our client teams serve our clients all over the world. We have LGBTI execu-tives leading different parts of the business. My co-chair Fred Balboni leads the IBM-Apple relationships for the entire company and is delivering value every day in that relationship. And he is there because IBM is a good place to work.
What does LGBTI mean on global business?
Claudia Brind-Woody: There are different parts of the world, where it is still illegal to be LGBTI. We want to make sure that it is safe for our employees, first of all. Secondly, we also want to be in countries where we can have business dialogue and leverage our business brand all with other brands, to make a difference in the discussion on LGBTI workplace inclusion. We have a diversity indicator in our human resources system, that allows people to self-select whether they are LBGTI. And we have rolled this out all over the world where it’s legal. There are still some countries where it is illegal to do so, like for instance the Nordics, which is surprising. In places like India, we had almost a thousand people, self-identify as LGBTI. In India it is still illegal to be gay. So, even in countries where they discriminate against LGBTI people, we work to create a climate where our employees know that within IBM, they are not going be discriminated against. They are going to be judged by their work, and how they create benefit for our clients.
“If you want to create value for your business, then make sure that you both have and value diversity.”
What achievements can be reported and measured at IBM since LGBTI has been issued? Would people rather not do business with IBM?
Claudia Brind-Woody: IBM stands for values. Throughout history we have held to those values. When we had discrimination, for example if client did not want to have a black or female sales representative, IBM said, we won’t send you any sales representative; we don’t want you as a client. That is the living of our values. We are proud to live those values.
We have three basic values: 1. Dedication to every client’s success, 2. Innovation that matters for our company and the world. And 3. trust and personal responsibility in all relationships. We are not going to worry about losing business from a client who is going to discriminate against IBMers.
What is the learning of IBM about recognising LGBTI in their D&I approach?
Claudia Brind-Woody: LGBTI is not an easy thing to address and yes, it is easier to talk about women or other minorities. But we experienced the following. A colleague of mine in the UK who was at a MBA recruiting conference for LGBTI MBAs for IBM kept having Asian women stop by the IBM booth throughout the day to get recruiting materials and talk about jobs at IBM. He finally said to one of the Asian women that he didn´t believe that all Asian women he saw that day were lesbians. The woman said: No, but we know that companies who understand and value their LGBTI employees understand and value all the rest of the dimensions of Diversity. They value women, Asians, Hispanics, Blacks and people of other cultures because LGBTI is the key indicator. It is the leading indicator that IBM is good with their Diversity policies.
What is on the LGBTI-agenda of IBM for the future?
Claudia Brind-Woody: Every year, we refresh what we call in the LGBTI community at IBM our “Vital Few.” We bring all our 34 out executives together for a one-day workshop, where we discuss what we think could be the vital areas of work for IBM in the LGBTI community. We look at equal benefits for IBMers all over the world. We look at how we can make sure our transgender benefits go beyond just some of the Western countries. We look at education and leadership development because with the diversity indicator, we can match people who self-identify as LGBTI to our lists of people who are considered to be top talent. We do LGBTI leadership seminars like we do for top talented women or top talented young engineers, just to mention a few. We are bringing that next generation of LGBTI-IBMers to a place where they get to improve their leadership skills. We have various things that we focus on doing. Certainly recruiting top talent is going to be something on our agenda always. We want the bright young talents coming into IBM. We want to be sure to support and develop them. We are always looking to expand our Employee Resource Groups. We are very proud of them. There are 42 LGBTI resource groups throughout the world with 13 chapters in North America, 7 Chapters in Latin America, 15 chapters in Europe, 4 in Asia Pacific including India and chapters in China, Japan, South Africa.
There is always plenty to do in terms of where to go next and there are many ways we want to make sure to be moving in that direction.
We think that D&I is good business. When we talk about the “costs of thinking twice,” we do not want the cost of lack of productivity. We do not want that personal cost of people hiding and not bringing their whole selves to work. There is a productivity cost there. There is a cost of not being able to hire the best and brightest, if you do not have a good workplace climate. There is a cost of cities if you are not innovative. If you think of big cities, which are innovative, which are tolerant such as Silicon Valley or places in Europe, for example. We do not want to pay the cost of being intolerant and not having innovation to make the economy grow.
Do not forget, that some of our clients are LGBTI as well. They should also feel welcome to succeed by doing business with IBM. There are many costs if LGBTI people are not welcomed in your business. If you want to create value for your business, then make sure that you both have and value diversity.
“LGBT*IQ employees need to be courageous as well. It is their decision. However, we need to show them the positive consequences of coming out rather than only associating disadvantages with it the way we have done until now.”
Claudia Brind-Woody has been working for IBM since 1996 and is the corporation’s Vice President as well as Managing Director of Global Intellectual Property Licensing, making her one of the most influential homosexual women in international business and a key figure in many LGBT*IQ organisations. These days, the IT and consulting corporation supports more than 40 of them in 30 countries, and this open attitude is instrumental in an LGBT*IQ-positive corporate philosophy taking root in other companies as well. In the past few years, Brind-Woody has not just been awarded a number of equal rights awards, she has also been a constant presence in the international rankings of the most influential lesbian personalities. In doing so, she exemplifies what she demands of other corporate leaders and has indeed made the title of her DINNER BEYOND BUSINESS keynote: “Authentic Leadership.”
Hearing Claudia Brind-Woody talk about both the necessity and the opportunities of an LGBT*IQ-positive corporate philosophy, it’s hard to avoid an emotional rollercoaster. Knowing smiles appear on the audience’s faces when the Vice President of IBM relates how she was recently told in Japan that there were no gay or lesbian people amongst the employees, and therefore there was no need for action.
After all, the board members and senior executives who have gathered in the tower of Deutsche Bank AG for the DINNER BEYOND BUSINESS this evening at the invitation of the PROUT AT WORK foundation know only too well that that’s not the case. That every large corporation has a talent pool of employees with an LGBT*IQ background, and that far too often it remains untapped.
Just a moment later, Brind-Woody provokes awkward silence among large parts of her audience when her keynote poses the question of who actually has a list of LGBT*IQ top talents in their own company? Only a very few.
When she broadens the question to whether an opportunity for voluntary self-identification as LGBT*IQ exists in their corporation, barely a hand is raised anymore.
While prepared to admit that Germany’s strict privacy laws prevent any such self-identification, Brind-Woody deplores this fact: “If we don’t know who among our employees has an LGBT*IQ background, how are we going to promote them systematically?”
A dinner guest wants to know how to implement mentoring programmes for LGBT*IQ employees without requiring a coming out on their part.
Brind-Woody’s response is surprising but unequivocal: “LGBT*IQ employees need to be courageous as well. It is their decision. However, we need to show them the positive consequences of coming out rather than only associating disadvantages with it the way we have done until now.”
After all, she explains, authentic leadership also means being able to put together teams with a diverse composition.
“A soccer team that only consists of strikers will never win a match. Without the goalie in his flashy colours, it’s just not going to work,” Brind-Woody draws a parallel between business and sports. “After all, business is about winning, too.”
‘Walk the talk’ – following words with deeds
Claudia Brind-Woody has been working for IBM since 1996 and is the corporation’s Vice President as well as Managing Director of Global Intellectual Property Licensing, making her one of the most influential homosexual women in international business and a key figure in many LGBT*IQ organisations. These days, the IT and consulting corporation supports more than 40 of them in 30 countries, and this open attitude is instrumental in an LGBT*IQ-positive corporate philosophy taking root in other companies as well.
“What’s the use of having brilliant strategy papers on diversity up here at the top management level when at the same time a homophobic supervisor in middle-management obstructs the professional careers and thus the lives of many of our talents with an LGBT*IQ background?”
In the past few years, Brind-Woody has not just been awarded a number of equal rights awards, she has also been a constant presence in the international rankings of the most influential lesbian personalities. In doing so, she exemplifies what she demands of other corporate leaders and has indeed made the title of her DINNER BEYOND BUSINESS keynote: “Authentic Leadership.”
By that, she means the mandate to legitimise one’s own leadership role through authentic relationships with one’s employees.
“Can I as the supervisor use the words ‘lesbian’ or ‘transgender’ in a way that gives the other person the impression that it’s not a problem to be like that?”
That, she explains, requires a leadership style from the heart, without fear of making oneself vulnerable. But it also requires following words with deeds. Those who declare that diversity in the workplace is important need to do something about it as well.
“What’s the use of having brilliant strategy papers on diversity up here at the top management level when at the same time a homophobic supervisor in middle-management obstructs the professional careers and thus the lives of many of our talents with an LGBT*IQ background?”
Silence and concern fill the hall on the 35th floor as Brind-Woody explains to the executives in the audience why even today, many LGBT*IQ people avoid coming out in their workplace. She tells them about the increasing number of lesbian, gay or trans* children and adolescents in the US who are thrown out of their homes by their parents and driven into homelessness. About the equally increasing suicide rate amongst those teenagers.
“Muslim, Jewish or dark-skinned child may experience bullying in the schoolyards, too. But they come home and receive understanding and support from their families, because their parents are Muslim, Jewish or dark-skinned themselves. However, that usually isn’t the case for parents of lesbian, gay, transgender or genderqueer children.”
In terms of the aspiration for authentic leadership, she says, this means learning to be able to motivate and support employees who are different from ourselves.
Many, herself included, have been too silent in the past when discriminatory decisions were made or hurtful words were chosen. “But silence is not a leadership style,” Brind-Woody summarises succinctly.
At the end of her keynote, she calls on executives to be more courageous and assertive, even if that occasionally means having to go against the flow.
“Of course being successful is wonderful. But doing something meaningful is even better.”
This year, almost 30 board members and senior executives of Lufthansa, Vodafone, IBM, Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, Fraport, the European Central Bank, Randstad Germany, Accenture, White & Case, Sandoz, Oliver Wyman, Linklaters, Bayer, Procter & Gamble, Hogan Lovells Merck, Mainzer Verkehrsgesellschaft [Public Transport Mainz], KPMG and Google once again accepted the invitation of the PROUT AT WORK foundation to discuss the advantages of diverse and equal-opportunity leadership in a casual atmosphere over dinner.
Video of Claudia Brind-Woody’s speech:
Coming-outs are still rare in the business sector, especially among executives […]. There is a dearth of role models who are prepared to be honest about their sexual identity.
Whenever the former CEO of BP and now Executive Chairman of the oil investment company L1 Energy, John Browne makes an appearance, things often get emotional – a rare state of affairs in the world of business. In his Hamburg keynote speech to business leaders, Lord Browne (68), who was born in Hamburg, spoke of his life and of his decades-long hiding. His mother, a survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp, had imprinted him at a young age that it was dangerous to tell someone a secret and to be an identifiable part of a minority. Browne followed this council until his forced outing in 2007. In his 41 years at BP – 13 as Chief Executive, during which time BP became one of largest companies in the world – he was leading a double life: one for the public and a private one as a homosexual man. Concealing his true identity demanded constant vigilance, Lord Browne said. These days, he believes hiding one’s identity is not a good idea. It costs people a great deal of energy and creativity, which, in the working world, is ultimately a loss for the company.
Research in his book, The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out Is Good Business, found that the value of companies with authentic and open-minded board members is significantly higher than for those with board members representing traditional conservative views. The economy and society as a whole have been proven to benefit from tolerant corporate cultures, Brown said in his emotional keynote. He presented his case to the attending DAX board members and top executives: The logic of companies is to bring people together. Therefore, it is only logical – and important – that global corporations and large companies become champions for diversity and inclusion, openly communicating and always putting diversity on the agenda, in order to create a fear-free work environment. Coming-outs are still rare in the business sector, especially among executives, the charismatic Browne noted. There is a dearth of role models who are prepared to be honest about their sexual identity.
In his Q&A session, Lord Browne asked: how many openly-gay board members there are in the S&P 500 Index? The answer: just one – Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple.
As one of the most successful managers in the world, John Browne made the conscious choice, after his ex-partner outed him, to become a role model and to encourage others to stand up for themselves and define their own paths.
Brown explains his commitment as simply “doing the right thing”. That’s why he now writes books and is active in the public sphere. From his own experience, he knows too well that the business sector is a “special place” and very conservative. Changes take time and perseverance.
In Germany to date, only one top corporate executive has come out as gay: the Managing Director of Telekom Deutschland, Niek Jan van Damme.
“This was my first PROUT AT WORK event that I was encouraged to join, because I was really interested to hear Lord Browne. He is really interesting as a person and a very credible person to speak about inclusion in the corporate environment. He gave us lessons which I hope we can take home to our own companies.”
Guests at DINNER BEYOND BUSINESS, many of whom had travelled to Hamburg specially to attend the event, expressed how moved there were by Lord Browne’s speech. Robin J. Stalker, the Chief Financial Officer at Adidas, remembered his first encounter with the LGBT movement, saying that at first he had to take time to think about their concerns, but now he identifies with them absolutely. “This was my first PROUT AT WORK event that I was encouraged to join, because I was really interested to hear Lord Browne. He is really interesting as a person and a very credible person to speak about inclusion in the corporate environment. He gave us lessons which I hope we can take home to our own companies.”
Lord Browne’s half-hour speech was followed by an exceptional dinner, which lasted until late in the evening, during which interesting discussions and new contacts developed.
Janina Kugel, a member of the Management Board and the Human Resources director of Siemens AG, said she planned to attend the next DINNER BEYOND BUSINESS too: “I met a very open-minded group of representatives from different companies. And all of us think that this topic is important. We want to push it forward, so that workplace diversity gains public awareness in Germany. Because when you think it over, we’ve got some catching-up to do: we need to find people who say, ‘yes! I’m part of the LGBT community and I’m proud of it. I am who I am, and I don’t hide. ’”
Norbert Janzen, Human Resources director and member of the management board at IBM, was also enthusiastic about the idea of the evening: “I have a great affinity for openness, and I love this kind of exchange between companies, because I believe we can learn a lot from each other. And the platform offered here is phenomenal. Combining that with an after-work dinner and with such an inspiring guest is outstanding. I’m going to take a lot with me and bring it back to the company.”
The event with Lord John Browne in Hamburg is the opening event for the DINNER BEYOND BUSINESS series. In a relaxed atmosphere and with a first-class menu, a select circle of corporate executives meet with the directors and founders of PROUT AT WORK. The keynote by a renowned speaker creates a framework for inspiration and exchange on new perspectives of corporate culture. These special events are held at irregular intervals.
PROUT AT WORK sent invitations for the first DINNER BEYOND BUSINESS to members of the executive boards of Adidas, Allianz, Bayer, Commerzbank, Covestro, DEA, Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Börse, Dow, EY, GE, IBM, Latham & Watkin, Merck, Pfizer, PwC, Sandoz, Siemens, Sodexo and White & Case.
Video of the Speech of Lord Browne: