Lord Browne: I am still surprised at how cautious businesses are in accepting diversity

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Lord Browne, the former Chief Executive of BP, has spoken out about a current lack of acceptance of diversity in the world of business, and said that for years he was scared to come out as gay.

In an interview with the Times, the openly gay current partner at Riverstone Holdings, said that he hadn’t felt comfortable with speaking about being gay for years, but that he felt better about being open now.

He went on to say that he thought many people in the business world were still surprisingly cautious when it came to diversity, and that they fear of the repercussions of openly gay people in the workplace meant that he had wanted to hide his sexuality.

“They say that their clients or their customers may not like it. I’ve heard that so many times. In the early days it frightened me so much that I became determined to hide away who I was. I feel so much more calm now. It’s a huge liberation,” he said.

Addressing the current situation in the business world compared with when he was starting out, he said it had changed a lot, but drew a comparison with working in businesses, and the now repealed ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, policy in the US military, which forbade gay military service members from serving openly.

“I would still question whether it’s fully accepting of all diversity. When I started in business, women were secretaries and they had to wear skirts — if they came to work in trousers, they were sent home.

“If you came in with a striped shirt, some man would look at you and say, ‘Forget to change your pyjamas?’ The idea of being gay would be mind-boggling to people. It was ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. As long as you didn’t talk about it, it didn’t exist.”

He also went on to cricise a lack of philanthropy in the UK, noting figures in the US known for giving vast amounts of money to charitable causes.

“Some of the richest people in the world have said they really want to do something, people like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates — but in this country, no.”, he said.

“Philanthropy should be an essential part of society. People need to think about how to recycle the gains that they have made by being part of society. In many cases, it would be good to give away everything, after provision for your family, when you die. Providing too much for your heirs is probably not a good idea.”

Last year, Bill Gates, and his wife Melinda, personally gave $500,000 (£313,000) towards efforts to legalise equal marriage in the state of Washington, pushing the total raised by equal rights advocates to $10.8 million (£6.7 million).

All of Lord Browne’s assets will go to his foundation when he dies, which includes his art collection, his house in London and a flat in Venice.

In the interview, he talks about his mother, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp, and with whom he lived until her death ten years ago. His father also worked for BP, and he said the family travelled the world together.

He is currently promoting his book Seven Elements that have Changed the World, which is available now.

Late last year Lord Browne said he believes that it is possible gay and lesbian employees are being overlooked for the top jobs at FTSE 100 companies because of homophobia within The City of London.