THE BLOG

LGBT and Ally Leaders Are Setting the Tone From the Top in Business

20/10/2015 10:59 BST | Updated 19/10/2016 10:12 BST

Today sees the launch of the third 3rd annual OUTstanding & FT Leading LGBT & Ally Executives Lists which celebrate business leaders who are smashing negative stereotypes and bringing greater diversity to their organisations in Britain and beyond.

These are truly our biggest and best lists yet. We are delighted to be able to celebrate 100 Leading LGBT Executives, 30 outstanding Allies and, for the first time, to be able to highlight 30 Future Leaders who prove that you can be an amazing role model, no matter where you sit in an organisation.

Our list members are leaders of companies which collectively employ almost six million people around the world. This alone shows how many lives are touched by the role models that we are celebrating.

We have also seen far greater diversity within the lists themselves this year. Topping the 100 Leading LGBT Executives list is Inga Beale, CEO of Lloyd's of London. Inga is both the first woman at number one and the first openly bisexual. Inga is proof that you can smash through the double glass ceiling in business, and is joined by three other openly bisexual business leaders - by far the most to ever be included in the Top 100.

This year's Top 100 celebrates its highest ever ranking transgender executive, Martine Rothblatt (CEO, United Therapeutics), at number four on the list. This is particularly important, when 90% of transgender individuals report mistreatment or harassment at work.

I'm also delighted to see Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg topping the ally list. There is no more high profile business leader in the world to send the message that successful companies welcome people of all backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities.

What is so satisfying about the lists is that they show we are making progress. Our view has always been that the best way to drive out prejudice in business is for leaders to be vociferous in their support of inclusion and to 'set the tone from the top'.

Unlike some other LGBT lists, anyone featured in our lists has to give their personal permission to be included. Compared to 2013, we see far more people wanting to be associated with the list - this year we have 42 brand new additions to the Top 100 alone. This is fantastic news as it shows people are both more comfortable about being their true selves at work, and that they see the value of 'going public' in order to inspire the next generation of leaders.

And these lists truly can make a difference. For example, I was incredibly moved by the story of one individual making his first appearance on the list this year. This is his first ever year as an openly gay leader. After seeing a colleague feature in last year's Top 100 he made the decision, following 30 years in the closet, to come out to his company's 53,000 employees. He then spent the past year telling his story, getting involved with as many LGBT events and activities as possible trying to make sure that future generations have a different experience, that they feel happy to be themselves as soon as they start out in the workplace.

The importance of role models cannot be underestimated and it's so incredible to see so many people standing up and speaking out about LGBT inclusion.

But there's no room for complacency. It's important to remember that our list members are the exception rather than the rule - they have battled prejudice to get where they are in business. Our goal is that the next generation won't have to do this.

And there is still so much more to be done. There are still many groups hugely underrepresented in our lists, including women and ethnic minority leaders. We've still never had any visible female to male transgender people in the lists. Ever. This needs addressing.

There is also work to be done to encourage more middle managers to embrace diversity. Our recent Business Barometer study showed that just 24% of LGBT executives think middle managers are inclusive - this is partly why we've introduced our Future Leaders list. The fact remains that 62% of students who were out at University go back into the closet when they start work.

A wider view of society demonstrates that it takes time to embed change. Even in the UK, where so much progress has been made, homophobic hate crimes jumped 22% this year.

Earlier this month, two LGBT people were murdered within 24 hours in the US - a sad reminder of how prejudice can lead to irrational hate. Transgender homicides have risen by 11% from 2014.

It's still illegal to be gay in almost 80 countries around the world.

This is a problem that needs to be cracked - so that no one feels they have to be closeted at work, and waste valuable effort muting their authentic selves.

And it's also good for business. Recent consumer polling by Google in the USA shows that brands that support diversity are seen as more progressive: 47% of consumers under the age of 24 are more likely to support a brand after seeing an equality themed ad.

Employees at more diverse companies are 45% more likely to report that their firm's market share grew over the previous year and 70% more likely to report that the firm had entered a new market.

One of the aims of OUTstanding is to not be around in five years. We want things to have progressed so much that an LGBT professional network is a luxury not a necessity. I'm truly proud of the progress we're making and I feel confident we can make this a non issue by the end of this decade, smashing the glass closet in business for good.