Google, BP and Barclays Bank have signed up for a new networking club designed to push LGBT executives to the head of the boardroom table.
OUTstanding In Business was set up with the backing of Lord John Browne, former CEO of BP, who points out not a single FTSE 100 company is led by an openly gay or lesbian business person.
Browne himself hid his sexuality for years and only came out after quitting BP in 2007.
Suki Sandhu, the founder of OUTstanding In Business, which will launch at an event in London this evening (12 June), was also disappointed senior executives didn’t attend existing networking organizations for LGBT business people.
Writing exclusively for GSN today, he vows to ‘make the boardroom a more colorful place’.
Sandhu said: ‘I want to enable lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender business leaders to be themselves both inside and outside work.
‘I believe this is crucial if we are to cultivate a positive culture within companies, helping them to best exploit the talents of all their people.
‘The recent debate around gay marriage has shown that, in spite of the significant strides made in the last 50 years, there is still a battle to be fought against discrimination against LGBT people.
‘There are still areas where we need to encourage positive attitudes, including the senior level of big business.’
He wants OUTstanding In Business to go beyond just networking to make boardrooms more diverse and even to encourage big firms to challenge the criminalization of gay sex in countries where it remains illegal.
Last week Browne argued in the House of Lords debate on gay marriage equality that it was good for business.
Speaking about the new network, he said: ‘Most businesses now recognize discrimination of any kind means losing talent. They understand different types of people bring new insights. And they know that employees perform best when they can bring themselves to work.
‘Despite the exemplary diversity policies in many companies, I think the business world remains more intolerant of homosexuality than others, such as the legal profession or the media.
‘We have some great leaders who are openly gay – Alan Joyce at Qantas, Charles Allen formerly of ITV, and Michael Bishop formerly of BMI – but LGBT people are still woefully underrepresented at the top levels.
‘We need the boardroom to be as diverse as the shop floor and the office.’
The network is also supported by Dawn Airey, former CEO of terrestrial British TV station Channel 5, Ashok Vaswani. global CEO Barclays Retail and Business Banking, and Harriet Green, group CEO of travel firm Thomas Cook Plc.
Vaswani said: ‘We’re a competitive business, and are under no illusion about the importance of recruiting and retaining the best people from all parts of the community.
‘Sexual orientation should be an integral part of every firm’s diversity strategy, right to the very top.’