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London Business School: How to be LGBTQ+ in business

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Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, told students and business executives gathered at London Business School (LBS) to be judged for their job and not to hide their sexuality. “Don’t be ‘the gay manager’, just be the manager who is gay. Be successful and be like you are,” he said.  

Bettel, 43, spoke movingly about coming out to his family and friends at a time when LGBTQ+ organisations were few and far between. He also reminded the audience that homosexuality is still illegal in 72 countries and punishable by death in 10. “I’m lucky I live in a country where I can openly be with the person I love,” he said (Bettel married Belgian architect Gauthier Destenay last year). 

Bettel, who became mayor of Luxembourg aged 38, recalled outing himself to the public during a radio interview when the presenter asked him how he dealt with public interest in his love life. “As a politician it’s hard, but as a gay politician it’s even harder,” he said. The mayors of Berlin and Paris were also gay men. “We wanted to be judged on what we wanted to do for our cities and not on our sexual orientation,” he said. 

He was speaking at EurOUT, a conference organised by Out in Business, which represents the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community at LBS. Its Co-President Nick Deakin made the Financial Times’s 2016 OUTstanding LGBT+ Future Leaders list. 

Deakin said: “It’s been tremendous to bring together 14 corporate sponsors, our largest number ever, with 45 organisations looking for authentic talent from the world’s leading business schools and universities. That LBS is at the forefront of this agenda is testament to the way diversity underpins how we do things here.”

Introducing the event, Professor Sir Andrew Likierman, Dean of London Business School, said: “We believe in diversity, we don’t just talk about it.” He highlighted the fact that LBS was the first European business school to offer the Reaching Out LGBT MBA Fellowship. 

Coming out at work

Jan Gooding, Chair of Stonewall and Brand Director at Aviva, described falling in love with a woman when she was already married, to a man with whom she had two teenage sons. “I was shocked to find myself in an affair,” she recalled. “I came out to my boss at British Gas because I was concerned my marital difficulties would affect my work. I didn't understand the risks associated with coming out at work.”

By the time she joined Aviva she had become more aware of what was at stake and went back into the closet, hiding her sexuality for a year until her boss told her she had lost her sparkle. “The next day I came out at a team meeting and I’ve never looked back,” she said. 

Twenty-five per cent of LGBT people are not out to their colleagues and 62% of openly gay graduates go back into the closet when they join the workplace. “As highly educated and confident future leaders I want you to realise your access to power,” Gooding said.  

Change works best when it’s led by people on the ground, she added. “Business has a huge role to play. Why is this important? It’s not just an ethical issue. This is about good old-fashioned productivity. Evidence shows people work better when they’re themselves, for the simple reason that otherwise you’re expending energy on hiding your true identity.” 

She outlined models some companies use to support their LGBT staff in countries where they cannot be open about their sexuality and praised firms such as Thomson Reuters, Google, BP and Citibank that actively support and recruit LGBT people. 

“It’s never been a better time to be out in the workplace and out in society,” said AT Kearney’s Mark Page. “We have seen tremendous progress. Yet if we lean back into our safe space and don’t keep pushing for rights, which includes challenging our network of friends, there’s a risk that we’ll fall back.”

More than 200 students from 45 leading global business schools and universities attended the event and speakers included executives from BCG (the event’s lead sponsor), McKinsey, Cisco, Google, KPMG, Telegraph Group and Mishcon de Reya. 

The intake of openly LGBT students at LBS has more than trebled since 2010 and Out in Business has 550 members.