THE BLOG

Hard to Come Out as Gay at Work? Imagine You're the CEO

05/08/2014 16:13 BST | Updated 05/10/2014 10:59 BST

Being able to be open with colleagues about sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the challenges in the modern workplace.

Research shows that workers who can bring their authentic self to work perform better in teams and are less likely to want to leave their current jobs.

Management at many companies increasingly seek to build workplaces where coming out as LGBT to colleagues is easier than it has been in the past. But what if you built your career in the closet?

What if you made it to the top of the company and you are gay but in the closet? Should you come out? Could you come out?

Coming Out Is Not Always Easy

You do not need to be CEO to worry about the effect coming out at work can have on your career.

New research from Out Now's LGBT2020 study to be released this October is going to show that in 2014, barely four in ten US workers are able to be out to everyone they work with.

One in five US workers are still out to nobody at all where they work.

That makes the release of John Browne's new book so important. The Glass Closet gives us personal insight into the author's journey in building a career 'trapped' inside the closet during his time working in the energy business.

Browne even rose to be the Chief Executive of BP - one of the largest global Fortune 500 companies. Yet at no time during this stellar career did the circumstances feel suitable for him to reveal one of the most fundamental aspects of his own identity to those for whom he was their leader.

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Being in the closet is not usually much fun. You have to invent facts to cover realities. You watch how you present, what you say, who is watching.

I remember clearly how much effort it took to try to conceal my own sexual orientation at the beginning of my working life back in the early 1990s in Australia as a 23 year old graduate trainee with a large international bank.

My career mattered little to most people at the firm but I wondered about my potential promotion prospects if people at work learned I was gay. These fears were more than enough to keep me firmly closeted at work, except with a few trusted individuals.

That was in Sydney which at the time was arguably one of the best places to be gay in the world. But I was scared of what would happen if I dared to come out and be openly gay. I was actually terrified of the prospect.

The Glass Closet

Of course one could argue that coming out at work is becoming progressively easier, but John Browne (now Lord Browne) did what no other Fortune 500 CEO had ever done - nor have any done since - to come out as gay.

Browne's career took place in the terribly macho world of the oil industry.

Having not come out at all in my first workplace helped put things into context for me to understand why Lord Browne's story is one that is so important and certainly needed telling.

Browne began working for BP as a teenaged apprentice in 1966 when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK, and when being openly gay at work was just not an option. He remained in the closet until his final day in the job, coming out as he resigned when faced with a British tabloid newspaper exposé of his private life.

While his new book gives a brutally frank account of Lord Browne's personal experiences, it also goes much further and is an invaluable resource for LGBT people at work - and most importantly for their bosses.

The Glass Closet focuses on the state of play in 2014 for LGBT people at work and what steps need acting upon now to make things better for the future.

Browne's story helps us to understand the intensity of the issues and concerns that exert such a strong effect on the working lives of LGBT people of all ages.

The book presents the reader with a compelling argument that LGBT equality in the workplace is not just the right thing to do, but that it also makes good business sense too.

I especially appreciated reading the personal experiences of other LGBT people - knowing you are not 'alone' is so important. These are perhaps the most compelling parts, but when backed by a wealth of supporting statistics this is a book that makes a very persuasive argument - and is also hard to put down.

I wish I could take a copy of The Glass Closet back to my 23 year old self to read when starting out in my own career.

It would have been easy for Lord Browne to avoid the publicity that this book has rightly earned him, and to enjoy his retirement in peace. Instead, however, he has chosen to use his own experiences to produce this enlightening read.

The Glass Closet will no doubt help make it easier for LGBT people to feel more comfortable about being themselves in their workplace and provides solid evidence that outcomes will be better for everyone as a result.

This book is perhaps Browne's finest piece of work and I have no doubt its legacy will prove to be one of his longest-lasting achievements in an extraordinary career. Well done.

A further book review is available to read on the Gay Market News blog. Out Now Senior Consultant Darren Cooper has an insightful personal interview with Lord Browne here.

You can read about what happened in 2007 when he resigned as CEO of BP - and what Lord Browne has to say in 2014 about the importance of business executives coming out to become role models in his new book on sale now at leading bookstores and online . To read real-life case studies, visit GlassCloset.org, where you can also find a 'buy' link for the book.

In October 2014, Out Now will release groundbreaking new research covering the latest workplace findings from its LGBT2020 study. The LGBT Diversity: Show Me The Business Case report provides new insights measuring real-world financial improvements to the corporate bottom-line able to be achieved through the development and implementation of effective LGBT inclusionary policies at work.