Friday 20 May 2016

The Glass Closet by John Browne

Reviewer: David C Dawson

What We Thought:

John Browne (Lord Browne) was CEO of BP, until he was outed by Britain’s tabloid press in 2007. At the time he wrote this book, there were no openly gay CEOs in the S&P list of the top 500 companies. Since then, there is now one: Tim Cook of Apple. Despite the passage of nine years since Browne’s outing, little has changed in the boardrooms of big business.

This book is a fascinating read. Browne explains why he thinks there is a continuing reluctance for senior executives to be open about their sexuality. As he once said in a radio interview, “It is a clubby experience. I mean, I think many people have an unconscious bias, they do tend to select people like themselves, and so therefore they [exclude] people who are a bit different.”
Starting with his own experience, he vividly paints a picture of loneliness and isolation. There are powerful emotions at work here. He goes a long way to explaining why he remained closeted throughout his corporate career. At one point he reveals that his mother was a Holocaust survivor. She would tell him, “Don't be different, because difference is always picked up when something goes wrong.” 

His interviews with people in senior positions describe casual homophobia from senior managers and peers, both male and female. All those that he interviewed remained closeted. Their fear is revealing and sad.

Browne’s argument ultimately is a simple one. People who are unable to be themselves in the workplace, who have to lie, or at least conceal the truth, are less effective. The emotional energy they consume as they pretend to be someone else, day-to-day, is bad for business. He makes a well-argued case. But he fails to come up with sufficient ideas for how homophobic corporate cultures can be changed.

Writing this book seems to have been important therapy for Lord John Browne. In some ways, he is refreshingly honest. After all, this was a man who repeatedly ducked the opportunity to be a role model for LGBTQ executives. A man who continued to lie to the court when questioned about his sexuality. So when I came to the final chapter, it became clear to me that what he had left unsaid in the book revealed much more about Lord Browne.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: The G Quotient by Kirk Snyder

Avoid if you don’t like: Books featuring corporate life

Ideal accompaniments: A nice cup of tea

Genre: Non-fiction, LGBTQ

Available from Amazon

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