World of business is intolerant of gays, says ex-BP chief Lord Browne

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The Independent Online

Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP and one of only a handful of openly gay business titans, has criticised UK plc for being intolerant of homosexuality.

The crossbench peer resigned in 2007 after nine years running BP because of allegations about his private life. Speaking publicly about being gay for the first time since leaving BP, Lord Browne compared corporate Britain unfavourably to other sectors of society.

"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," he said. "In some industries, the situation is particularly bad. Among the many people I know in private equity, where I now work, fewer than 1 per cent are openly gay."

Lord Browne was speaking at the launch of Connect Out, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender network set up by Arup, the engineering and design consultancy.

He went on to say that he believed that gay people are often put off applying for jobs because they are concerned about the risk of discrimination.

"This is the most difficult thing, people need confidence to go out there and be part of life," Lord Browne said.

He said he first realised he was gay when at boarding school in 1960.

"After Cambridge, when I joined BP as a graduate, it was immediately obvious to me that it was unacceptable to be gay in business and most definitely the oil business. It was a very macho and sometimes homophobic environment; I felt I had to conform.

"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."

In an interview for BBC Radio's Today programme Lord Browne called for a four-point code to guide business leaders. These were to "demonstrate that you are doing certain things to show you are being inclusive: don't do things that are purposely putting people off; make sure role models are known, and do it in such a way that doesn't feel so precious and fragile that it is simply being politically correct."