Apple boss Tim Cook has spoken publicly on his sexuality for the first time, revealing that he is proud to be gay. Writing in Business Week, Mr. Cook stated: “I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me. For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation.”
Within the business world there are a limited number of equality and diversity role models, this is an important moment for the LGBT community. Many other leaders have also championed Cook’s announcement, including Lord Browne, author of The Glass Closet and former Chief Executive of BP. He hails the Apple CEO as “an important role model”. Browne led energy giant BP for nearly 12 years until he resigned as chief executive in 2007. He became the first person to lead a major publicly traded company that has acknowledged his homosexuality.
Since then, Browne has been an advocate for openness in the workplace when it comes to sexual orientation. His book, “The Glass Closet,” posits that openness in the workplace is good for business and hopes to normalise its acceptance. “Looking back now, and with the enormous benefit of hindsight, I wish I had been brave enough to come out earlier,” wrote Browne in an essay for fortune. “The reactions of friends and colleagues have showed me that it is okay to be open about your sexuality.”
In the days leading up to this announcement, Tim Cook challenged his home state, Alabama, to do more to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Mr. Cook’s comments came as he and seven others, including the University of Alabama’s football coach, Nick Saban, were inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor.
Many key business and political figures agree with this movement. Cook is well regarded as a figure for equality and diversity and earlier this year he led 5,000 Apple employees in San Francisco’s Pride festival. Expressing his support for the LGBT community, Cook and Apple employees donned special T-shirts for the event during Sunday’s Pride festivities. He also tweeted pictures of the event with Apple employees marching in the event and posed for many photos with them.
Furthermore, to help attendees navigate the highly attended event, the company set up a dedicated LGBT station on iTunes Radio and featured several apps on its App Store; including the Find My Friends app. Company employees also handed out iTunes gift cards to bystanders. Apple employees told Reuters that the turnout at the parade was the largest ever for the company, which is striving to “boost morale among employees and reflect a corporate culture of diversity.” An Apple spokeswoman Michaela Wilkinson said: “Apple believes equality and diversity make us stronger and we’re proud to support our employees and their friends and families in this weekend’s celebration.”
Tim Cook has talked on many occasions about human rights, including in a speech last December at the United Nations where he said: “Now is the time to write these basic principles of human dignity into the book of law.” He also backed an immigration overhaul, adding to proposed reforms: “Look towards them being right and just instead of economically sound.” In the speech he also described the values he says he found in Apple and its founder Steve Jobs, when he joined the company in the late 1990s. These include creating products accessible to the disabled and, later, backing national non-discrimination legislation.
In 2013, Out Magazine named Cook as the most powerful LGBT person in the world. The list is intended to show who wields the most influence on broader America and people are assigned points based on four criteria: social and cultural influence, media profile, political influence and wealth.
How might equality and diversity be embraced further across all business sectors?