The business significance and rationale of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s public coming out as gay

Over the past few years US pro football and basketball players have publicly come out as gay, dispelling some common gay stereotypes (link) and sending a signal to everyone that you can be true to yourself and excel in any field for which you have the talent and passion. Link to articles on basketball player Jason Collins coming out and on the value recently out football player Michael Sam brings to the table.

Tim Cook, Apple CEO

Tim Cook, Apple CEO


And now this past week another American milestone has been reached with Apple CEO Tim Cook publishing an essay declaring he is proud to be gay. (Link to article.) This makes our first publically out LGBT CEO in the Fortune 1000.

Interestingly enough, this led me to recall and revisit a blog I wrote two years ago in October 2012 for National Coming Out Day titled, “The Business Value of Coming Out for Executives and Senior Managers.” I now want to revisit those compelling reasons for senior business leaders to come out:

1. It benefits the company! In retaining sharp young talent and recruiting the very best, LGBT people and all others who value diversity want to see full diversity among the senior leaders. LGBT employees will want to see that people like them can reach the upper echelons based on business achievement and not be held back for being gay. If I were currently working at Apple I would be so stoked by Cook’s pronouncement!

2. You will come across as more authentic with coworkers. Appearing secretive or aloof could also lead to team members wondering if they can trust you with business matters. Being an open authentic person and bringing your full self to the workplace helps build trust and stronger working relationships.

3. You will not have to waste any energy keeping track of who knows and who doesn’t, and what you told to whom. Instead of those mental gyrations, you can spend your full intellectual and emotional capital achieving excellent results on the job. In fact, Tim Cook stated, “I’ve come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important.”

4. Finally, it is liberating and freeing to live an open, honest life where you fully and publicly portray satisfaction with yourself as a person.

Feel free to call on me for my consulting services to either help you build a welcoming corporate culture that facilitates everyone bringing their full true selves to the workplace, or to assist and coach closeted executives on coming out. And take my 13 question GLBT diversity quiz to see how LGBT-inclusive your organization is.

The Business Value of Coming Out for Executives and Senior Managers

Next week on October 11, we celebrate “National Coming Out Day,” an internationally observed civil awareness day celebrating individuals who publicly identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Though many in the younger generation may view coming out as a non-issue, coming out may be far more difficult for older people and particularly business leaders who may be in senior manager or executive roles. I have even spoken with a handful of companies that have a few hundred executives or senior leaders, without a single one being out gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Certainly odds are that several out of 100 or 200 would be LGBT!

I assert there is a compelling business rationale for seasoned executives and managers to come out of the closet and be public in the workplace about being LGB or T. I realize those opposed to my assertion may claim that sexual orientation is a private matter and should not be discussed in the workplace. But this is absurd! Most heterosexual people are out at work . . . with photos of spouses and families on their desks. And when people share about the past weekend with co-workers over lunch or on break, they naturally speak about activities with significant others and families.

Here is the compelling value proposition for coming out:

1. It benefits the company! In retaining sharp young talent and recruiting the very best, LGBT people and all others who value diversity want to see full diversity among the senior leaders. LGBT employees will want to see that people like them can reach the upper echelons based on business achievement and not be held back for being gay. (i.e. the lavender ceiling.)

2. You will come across as more authentic with coworkers. Appearing secretive or aloof could also lead to team members wondering if they can trust you with business matters. Being an open authentic person and bringing your full self to the workplace helps build trust and stronger working relationships

3. You will not have to waste any energy keeping track of who knows and who doesn’t, and what you told to whom. Instead of those mental gyrations, you can spend your full intellectual and emotional capital achieving excellent results on the job

4. Finally, it is liberating and freeing to live an open, honest life where you fully and publicly portray satisfaction with yourself as a person.

Here is a recent article (link) about an IBM executive in the UK who came out at work and was truly happy with the results.

Finally, feel free to call on me for my consulting services to either help you build a welcoming corporate culture that facilitates everyone bringing their full true selves to the workplace, or to assist and coach closeted executives on coming out.