What Apple’s New CEO Appointment Teaches Us About Corporate America
by Andrés T. Tapia –
The recent announcement that Tim Cook would be taking over as Apple’s CEO had journalists and bloggers across the Web commenting on more than just Cook’s business acumen. One article touted the Apple executive as “the most powerful gay executive in the world,” while other reports debated whether Cook’s sexual orientation even matters.
Neither Cook nor Apple has publicly discussed the new Apple head’s sexuality. The reasons why aren’t clear, but this news has caused me to contemplate why, in light of all the recent LGBT advancements in the country, so many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community still are reluctant to be out and open at work.
In just the past couple of years, we have witnessed multiple indications of a shift toward greater LGBT acceptance and inclusiveness. Through the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gay and lesbian service people may now serve openly alongside their heterosexual counterparts. Five states (including New York most recently) and the District of Columbia have made same-sex marriage legal. Traditionally conservative people are having a change of heart. Former First Lady Laura Bush’s support of gay marriage, one of the definitive social issues of her husband’s presidency, is just one example. And across the country, public opinion polls show support of same-sex marriage is trending upward. In 2010, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life announced that, for the first time in its 15 years of polling, less than half of respondents stated they were opposed to same-sex marriage.
LGBT acceptance is also occurring in places around the globe that one might not expect. Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications, Inc., a Washington D.C.-based public relations and marketing firm specializing in the LGBT market, cites the following examples in Diversity Best Practices upcoming Global Diversity Primer:
Argentina became the first Latin American country to enact a same-sex marriage law.
A lesbian proudly serves as the head of government in Iceland.
In Nepal, an openly gay man has been elected to parliament of his small Asian kingdom.
And South Africa now offers full civil and marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Yet, even with new laws and attitude shifts, there is no guarantee that those in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender community will not face discrimination or harassment. In fact, it is still quite dangerous to be homosexual. In a number of countries across the globe, homosexual acts are punishable by death.
While homosexuality is legal in the United States, there is no federal law that consistently protects against LGBT employment discrimination. In fact, discrimination based on sexual orientation remains legal in 29 states. In 35 states, it is legal to discriminate based on gender identity or expression.
Based on these statistics, it’s not surprising that Cook has not discussed his sexual orientation publically. Yet, doing so just might be the push Corporate America needs to move toward even greater acceptance and inclusion. In being vocal about his sexual orientation, the “most powerful gay executive in the world” can serve as a role model for both individuals and companies.
As champions and enthusiasts of diversity, we can help companies and the country get past the tipping point – to a place where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees are afforded all of the same rights as their heterosexual colleagues.