Four incredible months ago, I set up OUTstanding in Business, a new network for LGBT executive level professionals and just last week we launched the first ever Top 50 LGBT Business Leaders list.
The list is OUTstanding in Business's contribution to a global movement to encourage more LGBT executives to be open about who they are, challenge stereotypes and inspire future leaders in the Boardroom. It's a unique, unprecedented and ground-breaking ambition but since seeing the phenomenal reaction we received upon publication last week, I now know it's possible.
Some may question why it's important to know whether business leaders are LGBT or not: why should anybody care what sexuality those around the boardroom table are?
I'd argue that this is highly relevant. Whilst we have taken huge strides in terms of diversity and gay equality in the UK, there is clear evidence that homophobia still persists in the workplace. A recent study by Gaydar revealed that 43% of gay men have experienced homophobia at work. If this is the situation in largely liberal developed economies, you get an idea of how challenging the situation can be in less tolerant societies around the world.
A wage or income gap between LGBT people and heterosexual people with the same job and personal characteristics provides another indicator of sexual orientation discrimination. Data from the Williams Institute in the US, for example, shows that gay men earn 10% to 32% less than otherwise similar heterosexual men.
These two factors undoubtedly create a perception for many gay people that it is safer to stay in the closet.
But for me, this does not make sense. I know from working in the executive recruitment business for almost 10 years, that the mental capacity required by LGBT employees to lead a double-life 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.
Of course, it's about more than just being LGBT. OUTstanding in Business's aim is to shine a light on those executives who are promoting and practising authentic leadership by championing diversity in their companies. More than that, those in The Top 50 List are highly successful executives in their own right. They truly show that being open about your sexuality is not a barrier to rising to the very top.
The recent appointment of Christopher Bailey as CEO of Burberry was an inspiring turning point for me. Staggeringly, when he takes the reigns next April, Christopher will be the first openly 'out' CEO of a FTSE 100 company.
I hope Christopher's appointment will inspire others to embrace who they are and pave the way for change in the corporate world. Organisations like Burberry and our founding members Barclays, BP, EY and Google, that encourage people to be proud of who they are, are harnessing the talent of all their employees in a unique way. This is hugely powerful, not only for the company, but also for the economy, society, and vitally, the individuals themselves.
Celebrating the LGBT community is not a new idea. You'll have seen the latest Pink List published in The Independent on Sunday in October. In its 14th year, it contained 101 LGBT individuals who are making an impact. They are an amazing group of people, but only six on the Pink List were from the business community.
This is why our mission is different and important. Our list recognises the huge number of LGBT leaders who are contributing to the economy (a relevant and common interest of everyone) and who deserve to share the same limelight as their fabulous counterparts in the arts and entertainment industry.
I know we are achieving success if we manage to shift perceptions about the role of LGBT people in business. By highlighting their successes, we want to inspire the next generation of leaders. We want to create an environment where they are not held back by their sexuality and give them the confidence and opportunity to break through the "glass closet". And we also want to influence corporate policies that impact LGBT issues and engage straight allies.
If it has taken over 30 years for women to be represented in the boardroom - and still only 19% of FTSE 100 directors are women - how long will it take for LGBT executives to be represented to the same level? We can't wait that long, something needs to be done now.