Speaking at the launch of Connect Out, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender network set up by Arup, the crossbench member of the House of Lords suggested that homophobic behaviour and discrimination is still rife in the business world, particularly within certain industries.
“My sense is that the business world remains more intolerant of homosexuality than other worlds such as the legal profession, the media and the visual arts. I am one of a handful of publicly gay people to have run a FTSE 100 company,” the BBC quotes him as saying.
“In some industries, the situation is particularly bad. Among the many people I know in private equity, where I now work, fewer than one per cent are openly gay.”
He encouraged business leaders to think about how they can create a more inclusive workplace, where employees feel they do not have to hide their sexuality.
“It comes down to a simple maxim – don’t do anything that excludes people,” he said, adding that the introduction of “rigorous performance measurement” and the establishment of “concrete targets” would help achieve greater inclusion.
Speaking from personal experience – it was not until the end of his 41-year career at BP that he came out as gay – Lord Browne described the detrimental psychological effects keeping homosexuality a secret from bosses, colleagues and clients can have.
“Hiding my sexuality did make me unhappy and, in the end, it didn’t work. People guessed, and it was only a matter of time before it came out,” he said.
“In fact I was trapped for most of my adult life, unable to reveal who I was to the world. I led a double-life of secrecy, and of deep isolation, walled off from those closest to me.”