The UK boss of HSBC has attacked gay business chiefs who stay in the closet by declaring that it is a failure of leadership for senior executives to conceal their sexuality from their employees.
Antonio Simoes, who describes himself as “the short, bald, Portuguese, gay guy who runs HSBC”, said it was high time that his peers in the City stopped employing evasive tactics to hide their private lives.
“We’re in London, we’re in 2014. It’s not acceptable that we take for granted all the work done by others on issues such as marriage equality,” said Mr Samoes. “There’s a huge personal responsibility to come out and to be out.”
The HSBC boss was speaking at “Out on the Street Europe”, a conference on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues hosted by Deutsche Bank in the City. One of only a handful of openly gay chief executives in the financial industry, Mr Simoes “came out” to his 46,000 employees in a video message last year.
He lamented the ambiguous language still commonly used in the workplace by bosses who are shy about same-sex relationships: “It’s a cop-out to say ‘my partner’. You need to say ‘my husband’.”
Last month, Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, announced he was gay, catapulting him to the top of the table of the world’s most influential gay or lesbian business leaders and prompting a renewed debate about openness in the workplace. Mr Cook said encountering bigotry had given him “the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple”.
In Britain, Christopher Bailey, the boss of Burberry, is the only openly gay FTSE 100 chief executive. A number of large companies outside the blue-chip index, including WH Smith and Monarch Airlines, are led by gay bosses.
Banks and consumer organizations are making increasingly serious efforts to attract gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender customers. RBS has been training its branch staff on how to respond to customers who change gender.
The collective annual buying power of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender consumers is estimated at $3 trillion (£1.9 trillion) – equivalent to the gross domestic product of Brazil.