Tim Cook is the only openly gay Fortune 500 CEO in America. In America! Let that sink in for a moment.
Based on research that was last conducted in late 2014, Cook was in a class all his own and not because of Apple’s sleek and innovative products. This batch of stats revealed even more troubling findings. Only 5 Fortune 500 CEOs were black. While that’s more than one, it’s still a dismal number.
In the gay community, we fight hard for representation on the big and small screens. Of course there’s value in diversity in entertainment. Seeing someone on TV that has your skin tone or accurately communicates your struggle as an LGBTQ person is so important. The value of this type of representation is priceless. But that can’t be the only place we focus as a community. If we really want to see major change in diversity across the country, it’s high time we infiltrate the boardroom.
Why aren’t we there already?
There’s a few things holding us back. Clearly, the culture in the business world is largely white, cisgender male and heterosexual. You can see this not only in the makeup of Fortune 500 companies but also in the bro culture that permeates startups. Whether it’s micro-aggressions from co-workers, outright discrimination from top leaders or a feeling of not belonging, this kind of office culture can be intimidating. Factor in the lack of federal protections against discrimination based on sexual identity and there’s, even more, reason for apprehension.
In turn, there’s a reluctance on the part of minority leaders to fight for access. Why force your way in if you won’t feel comfortable being yourself?
It’s likely we’ve all encountered someone who was gay in their private life but straight in the office. Despite the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage and the increased visibility of the LGBTQ community, the greater change in the nation isn’t reflected in the private offices of its top companies.
But we have to push forward. We have to be the change we want to see. It may sound cheesy like one of those Pinterest quote pins, but it’s true. If the only gay person we see at the top is Tim Cook, and no one else ascends the ranks to join him, being represented in the C-suite will continue to look impossible.
If we get more minority leaders into top positions, they’ll open the floodgates for more inclusive workspaces and cultures.
Take for instance the UK Parliament. It’s not a business per se, but its diversity serves as an example what can happen when a diverse group of people reside in the top roles. In 2015, nearly a third of Parliament was made up of women, and the number of ethnic minorities doubled. In 2016, it was confirmed that 32 of its MPs were LGBTQ. The UK Parliament is among the most diverse governing bodies in the world. There’s no doubt that this group considers the interests and well-being of all when making crucial decisions.
This is what we need in American business. We need C-suites filled with different skin tones and sexualities. This diverse team will think about everyone when they make important choices. They’ll welcome in more diversity at every level and make inclusion a focus. They’ll market to different demographics.
As we all know, the more diverse the team, the more innovative the ideas. The more creative the solutions.
This isn’t to say that recent entertainment successes like Moonlight aren’t important because they absolutely are. Movies and TV shows are some of the greatest ways to reach the masses and share stories about those who may not get time in the spotlight. But we also need to show black people and LGBTQ people and all minorities that they can search for themselves everywhere. Not just on the big screen. They too can have that corner office with floor-to-ceiling windows, an assistant and a profile in Forbes.
We must break the pink ceiling if we want to see true diversity.