JOHN Browne, the former CEO of BP, attended the festival to talk about his new book, The Glass Closet.
Browne explained how he had led BP for 12 years and spent almost 40 years at the company but kept his homosexuality secret by leading two lives, maintaining a private life totally separate from his corporate life.
However, in the end this double life led to his rapid departure from BP following revelations from a former lover. Surely, you might think, having to keep one’s sexuality secret to get on in business is a thing of the past (after all he joined BP in 1969). However, Browne revealed that there are currently no openly gay CEOs at the 500 largest US companies (Fortune 500), suggesting this is clearly not the case.
Whilst researching the book, he also interviewed many young gay people in business who remain “in the closet” for fear it will damage their careers. He hopes to persuade business leaders that fostering an open and liberal culture at work is good for business.
His insights and revelations kept the audience engaged and there was a lively question and answer session. Browne came across as a reserved man and talking openly about these issues can’t be easy, but his sincerity shined through. I left the event reminded that although large steps have been made over the last few decades, there is further to go and, just as importantly, as Browne noted, constant vigilance is needed to ensure that things don’t go backwards.