“Boards are interesting, but the real power is on the Executive Committee,” said Lord Browne, adding that the boardroom may be “a misplaced target” in terms of truly changing a company’s culture and outlook.
Lord Browne was in Cambridge this month to speak about his recent book The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good for Business, in which he details mistakes he made in his own previous “double life” as a secretly gay business executive, and argues that openness is healthy for both individuals and corporations.
Lord Browne said that corporate inclusion is a key element in staff engagement, and that studies show conclusively that engaged staff markedly improve corporate performance. He emphasised that results rather than process is the true test of whether a business is successfully fostering diversity and inclusion.
“The most important thing is not quotas on inputs, but quotas on outcomes,” he said. Companies should look carefully at their selection and recruitment process and ask: “Why is the outcome not reflective of the input?”
He said that corporate attitudes and actions regarding diversity of sexual orientation reflect a company’s broader outlook and ethics:
"A big litmus test is how companies deal with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) inclusion. If they get that right, they can get a lot right."
Cambridge Judge Business School is currently establishing an LGBT group for students, staff and faculty, in order to promote a greater sense of community at the School and greater understanding of LGBT issues within the School and in business.
Lord Browne, a former chairman of the Advisory Board at Cambridge Judge, said that business schools have an important role to play in helping business improve diversity and inclusion practices.
“The safety of a decision-making process is the diversity of the people making the decision,” he said. “So business schools need to have case studies, and need to talk about the importance of inclusion.” He added that it was important for LBGT networks not to be “self-contained ghettos”, but to also include straight people so the message of inclusivity spreads throughout an organisation.
On a global scale, Lord Browne said “the glass is half full” regarding advancement of LGBT rights and inclusion. There have been some advances, such as laws protecting gay marriage in some countries and US states, “but it doesn’t mean the job is done”. And while enlightened attitudes are visible in cosmopolitan areas such as London and New York, “there are plenty of other places it doesn’t work”, ranging from rural part of Britain and the US to 77 countries where homosexuality is illegal.