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Why more CEOs should come out of the closet: John Browne

Daily Ticker

Living a double life is hard and problematic when you're the CEO of one of the world's largest oil companies. That's a big part of the story John Browne, former CEO of BP, tells in his new book, "The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good Business."

Browne was outed by a former boyfriend who sold his story to a British tabloid. The day an injunction was lifted on its publication, Browne - then 59-years-old - resigned from BP after working there for 38 years. He had been CEO for 12 of those years, and by the time he reached that pinnacle of corporate power he "felt trapped and isolated," he writes.

Browne tells The Daily Ticker that like many gay people working in the corporate world, he lived two lives -- one a public, in-the-closet life; the other a private, somewhat still-in-the-closet life. That "keeps a lot of your mind working on something other than business and it probably takes away half your productivity," he says.

Browne cites studies showing that "productivity improves by up to 30% in an inclusive environment" and says coming out not only benefits those individuals but possibly the productivity of their co-workers as well.

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Browne admits in his book, "Being gay did not harm my career, but hiding my sexuality made me very unhappy... I was imprisoned by the dread of exposure." And when his mother, whom he brought regularly to corporate events, died, Browne was "desperately lonely... I had no family to mourn with and my loneliness sapped all my energy and strength."

He doesn't want others to suffer the same fate he did and regrets he didn't reveal more about himself sooner. "I wish I had been brave enough to come out earlier during my tenure as chief executive of BP," Browne writes. "I regret it to this day. I know that if I had done so, I would have made more of an impact for other gay men and women."

But corporate policies on gay issues have been changing and making an impact, supporting Browne's book's tagline that coming out is good business. Take the example of Julia Hoggett, recounted in his book. The managing director at the London office of Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC) chose to work at Merrill over another firm because its contract effectively said employees would not be sacked on the grounds of their sexuality, and she hadn't come out yet.

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Financial firms and professional services firms "have done very well" promoting gay-friendly policies, Browne says, but he laments that "industry generally is lagging and boardrooms remain very conservative."

It's "the war for talent" that has inspired "an increasing number of Fortune 500 companies [to] see LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] inclusiveness not as an option but as a necessity," writes Browne. And targeting the growing LGBT market, which he describes as  "high performing and high spending,“ is good business.

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