The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good Business, by John Browne; book review


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There is a convincingly argued, utterly persuasive essay sandwiched between some self-serving dross in The Glass Closet.

One chapter, “Coming out is good business”, really gets to the heart of what the book is supposed to be about. Lord Browne, the former BP chief executive who quit after he was outed as gay in 2007, uses a thorough range of statistics, first-hand interviews, and under-reported case studies to prove that businesses financially benefit from an inclusive attitude to the LGBT community.

Starbucks might be tax-avoiding and Goldman Sachs a vampire squid, but you will be salivating for a frappuccino and want to chuck your pennies into a collateral mezzanine fund when you see how Lord Browne puts them at the front and centre of his argument.

In January 2012, Starbucks announced support for gay marriage. An opposition group launched an online petition against what it declared was a “corporate assault on marriage”.  The following year, a furious shareholder at the group’s annual meeting claimed that Starbucks’ disappointing results were at least partly linked to the company’s position on the issue.

“We employ over 200,000 people in this company and we want to embrace diversity. Of all kinds,” replied chief executive Howard Schultz to cheers, daring the investor to sell shares that had been booming in value.

Also in 2012, Goldman Sachs boss Lloyd Blankfein appeared in a video backing same-sex marriage. The bank lost a major client, but Mr Blankfein pointed out that was outweighed by the gains of fostering an unintimidating workplace: “To the extent that there are other companies or industries which are going to be hostile and repellent to people who are talented ... they’re just giving us comparative advantage.”

As Lord Browne argues, “diversity and inclusion are not the same thing” and the companies that understand the differentiation will have a more productive workforce and reach a wider audience. “The LGBT population, traditionally under-served by marketers, present a meaningful and often sizeable opportunity,” writes the author, pointing out the buying power of the US LGBT market grew from $743bn (£442m) in 2010 to $830bn last year.

Lord Browne is clearly at his most comfortable, and certainly at his most fluent, when he takes a cold, hard look at the facts. It is here that references to, and quotes from, senior figures in world business feel relevant rather than just a name-dropping exercise to convince the world that, yes, Lord Browne has a first-class contacts book.

Unfortunately, there is a dreadfully self-serving first chapter that describes events that led to the press revealing his three-year relationship with a male escort.

He says his privacy was invaded and more than hints at homophobia as he fought to keep an injunction. But Lord Browne rather glosses over issues of public interest, abuse of the UK’s privacy laws, borderline perjury, arrogance and hubris.

Skip this chapter and mentally redact the more self-serving passages of The Glass Closet and what is left is a briskly written, thought-provoking book.