It’s Gay Pride week in Prague, and as well as all the fun and festivity (which is, to my mind, completely unendurable during a 36C heat wave) there’s also some serious talk about diversity and inclusion – and some heavyweights to do it.
Yesterday’s Gay Business Forum, at the Hilton Hotel, was moderated by Evan Davies, the BBC’s Newsnight anchor, and presenter of Dragon’s Den. Whether he got back to London in time for Newsnight I don’t know, but we were lucky that he could spare a whole afternoon for the cause.
The first guest speaker was Lord John Browne, former CEO of BP, and architect of the company’s huge expansion in the 1990s and 2000s. He’s a formidable man, one of the world’s most prominent oil businessmen, and now Chairman of a new Russian-financed oil company, L1.
In 2007 Lord Browne was ‘outed’ as gay by one of the UK’s gutter newspapers, and he resigned from his position as CEO, not because of the disclosure that he was gay, but because he had briefly lied in his attempt to prevent publication.
Following which, by his own admission he has never been happier.
I read Lord Browne’s book, The Glass Closet – Why Coming Out is Good Business, last year. As well as explaining how foolishly he had lived most of his life, attempting to conceal his sexuality (which everyone seemed to know about, and no one cared about) he argues forcibly that corporations of all kinds must be inclusive of all kinds of difference if they are to cast the net for the world’s best talent as wisely and widely as possible. The best might be black, white, blue, green, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, young, old, female, male, physically handicapped – whatever. All must feel comfortable in the workplace – and (to repeat a word that he uses frequently) ‘authentic’.
Some clever statistician in the audience claimed later in the afternoon that 300 Billion EUR of productivity are lost to Europe because ‘closet cases’ in the workplace are 30% less productive than the typical worker (a claim that could not, I think, be made about Lord Browne, who though securely in the closet, was, and probably is, an extreme example of the workaholic).
But I agree about authenticity. When I’m training consultants in soft skills I stress that we must be the same selves at home as in the office, merits and faults. And I encourage difference. Anything to avoid what is dull! Technology has blurred the edges of the workplace, and even the workday, so it’s less easy to define the limits of ‘work’ and ‘life’. We’re sometimes on holiday at work, and at work on holiday. At least I am.
But, most of all, it was moving to hear Lord Browne talk of the overwhelming support he received after his ‘outing’ and it’s clear that he is now a happy and entirely authentic man, and just as big an oil man as before. We were lucky to hear him speak and it is impressive that he devotes some considerable time to making the argument for diversity and inclusion.