The Blog

Our OUTstanding Business Leaders Prove the Power of Authenticity

Welcoming the first ever 'out' CEO of a FTSE 100 company isn't the only major change since last year; our 'Top 100' is twice as long and includes three times as many transgender business leaders.

Following the phenomenal response to our inaugural 'Top 50' list of inspirational LGBT executives in 2013, the OUTstanding team were ecstatic to recognise the Top 100 LGBT business leaders and, for the first time, champion 20 straight allies too.

Newly appointed Burberry CEO Christopher Bailey (and first ever 'out' CEO of a FTSE 100 company!) and Richard Branson topped the lists respectively. Both powerhouses within their industries; these men truly deserve to be acknowledged for their role in raising the profile of diversity in Britain's boardrooms.

Welcoming the first ever 'out' CEO of a FTSE 100 company isn't the only major change since last year; our 'Top 100' is twice as long and includes three times as many transgender business leaders. We were proud to announce almost a quarter of the Top 100 work within the traditionally less inclusive banking and financial services industries, including our distinguished no. 2 Antonio Simoes who heads up HSBC's operations in the UK.

The technology sector is making headway too. This year, almost three times more list members are from tech companies than in 2013. The heads of organisations like Yahoo, Google and Apple have all recently admitted they're not happy with how diverse their workforce is and know more needs to be done. Hopefully our lists will be seen as notable progress.

But there's still more to do. Not having any visible bisexual people on the list is a big issue and there are very few ethnic minorities leaders included. We've seen an increase of transgender members since last year but the community is still under-represented with no male trans nominees. Perhaps this is unsurprising when 90% of transgender employees experience harassment at work, according to a 2011 transgender discrimination survey.

Equally, as Claudia Brind-Woody, vice president and managing director of Global Intellectual Property Licensing at IBM (our no. 10 on the Top 100) points out, women have a double barriers to overcome:

"You do have women who choose not to come out because of what people call the double-glazed glass ceiling. Research...has shown that women hesitate to raise their hand again and come out because they are already discriminated against."

I know from our work with hundreds of LGBT professionals, that the mental capacity required by LGBT employees to hide who they are in the office reduces their ability to perform. This can ultimately damage a business's bottom line.

On the other hand, business leaders who are themselves at work are more inspiring and authentic leaders, motivate their teams better, and as a result create more wealth for the company.

We need publically visible role models in business to show that the workplace welcomes all talented people, regardless of their backgrounds or identities. We know this can have a positive impact at both ends of the ladder. Just last week at the launch, a member who has graced the Top 10 two years running, remembered the 'hundreds' of letters of gratitude and support he'd received after appearing in our list in 2013.

However, it's important to remember this is a human, not just an LGBT issue, which is why we're also celebrating those trailblazers outside the LGBT community who promote the issue of diversity within their businesses. As editor of the proudly pink Financial Times, which published the fantastic supplement Executive Diversity to launch the list, Lionel Barber said:

"...a mark of a modern society - a mark of an advanced democracy - is one that protects and defends minorities. All minorities. We do not live by the tyranny of the majority ,that is an important reason why LGBT and other human rights need to be defended."

I would be enormously proud if, in ten years time, the Boards of our top companies more accurately reflect the societies they serve. This would be hugely powerful, not only for the companies, but also for the economy, our society, and vitally, the individuals themselves.

In the meantime I send the list members my hearty congratulations - you are all talented, open and authentic leaders taking your rightful place at the heart of businesses.

I hope the publication of both lists will inspire the next generation of leaders to embrace who they are, break through the 'glass closet' and pave the way for change in the corporate world. Bring on an even bigger and better 2015.