Originally posted on Huffington Post. “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.” In a post published on Bloomberg Businessweek this morning, Tim Cook finally acknowledges what has been only whispered for so long, that he is gay. The fact that this is still such big news (and the source of so much speculation up to today) shows why in this day and age it is still important for members of the LGBT Community to stand up and be visible. So why does it matter so much? For one, Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple, one of the most powerful companies in the world. Having someone of his stature publicly declare his sexual orientation is still a rare occurrence in the business world. So much so that the New York Times recently ran a much shared article asking “Where Are the Gay Executives?”
The article pointed out among other things that it is still more common than not for LGBT workers to remain closeted at work and that they also struggle to find mentors, both factors that can have a significant impact on career advancement. Tim Cook’s declaration and his recent work addressing issues of inclusion sends a message that discrimination and lack of diversity will not be tolerated. Coming from the head of Apple, this is no small thing. Second, Tim Cook’s coming out immediately creates a role model for countless gay youth to emulate. As Tim himself stated, “…if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.” Lack of role models in business is a real issue for LGBT executives and the more that senior executives that can live their lives openly at work, the more opportunities for networking and mentoring there will be for younger workers within a company. Furthermore, statements of equality and inclusion at the top levels of a company are immediately noticed at all levels. Having an openly gay executive at the top level of a company advocating on issues of equality and diversity signals to all employees that they are welcome to be open as well. Third, Tim Cook’s announcement will make it easier for top LGBT executives at other companies that may be struggling with their own decisions about coming out to take that leap. No doubt the response to Tim Cook’s announcement will be observed closely at other companies. The way he has handled this and the way this story is handled will provide a blueprint to others weighing a similar declaration.
Tim Cook’s coming out will make it easier for others to follow in his path. Like in other areas, such as entertainment and sports, each event makes the next less sensational and news worthy. Hopefully, others are taking note and preparing their own announcements as well. Tim Cook’s announcement matters not only because of Apple’s business impact but it’s cultural impact as well. Few brands have infiltrated our lives as pervasively as Apple has. For a company like Apple to stand in the forefront of diversity and equality issues as well as embracing a prominent gay CEO sends a message to businesses that to succeed you need to embrace diversity and equality. Tim Cook has instantly made himself a role model to countless gay youth who can now point to a successful openly gay businessman and can say “I can do it too”.