Book Review: The Glass Closet

Between the Covers | Aug. 27, 2014

By Terri Schichenmeyer, Aug. 27, 2014.

Glass Closet

The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good Business by John Browne. Harper Business, 2014| $27.99.

The view from your office is quite magnificent. When you moved into that space, you also got the perfect desk, a credenza to match and a plushy, throne-like chair. It’s a workspace anyone would envy.

Yes, your office is well appointed. But your closet?  Not so much. Therefore, according to John Browne in his new book The Glass Closet, maybe it’s time to come out of it.

Starting as a young man in 1969, Browne rose through the ranks at oil-giant BP until 2007, when he resigned as chief executive. He might’ve still been there, if not for an unfortunately splashy scandal that seems tame today: Browne is gay. When “a tangled skein of allegations” pulled him out of the closet, he resigned from his job, fearing that his life was over.

Obviously it was not, but he discovered that his experiences aren’t unusual.

Even though there have been strides made, and though nearly all Fortune 500 companies have in-place policies to prevent discrimination based on sexual preference and identity, more than 40 percent of American LGBT workers remain closeted on the job.

“Years of progress have reduced the risk of harassment,” Browne said, “but they have not completely eradicated it.”

Coming out is still risky, as evidenced by the interviews he completed with people who mostly asked that their last names not be used.

Businesses, Browne said, should understand that inclusion levels the “playing field” and widens the choices available in the “war for talent,” something Fortune 500 companies already know.

Extending benefits to same-sex partners serves to retain workers, and policies supporting LGBT employees also send a positive message to other minority groups. Marketing and ad departments must remember that the LGBT community is “traditionally under-served” but represents an “often sizeable opportunity.”

As for LGBT workers, Browne recalls how much effort it took to keep his secret, and how much it weighed him down. Still, “[n]o matter how skilled you think you are at hiding your true self, those closest to you … will see you through the closet door.” Coming out is risky, but “the risk will be worth the reward.”

Seemingly meant for business, The Glass Closet is not exactly business-related for the first third of it. Instead, author John Browne begins with his life story, and a tired LGBT history that includes little-to-nothing about the world of work.

That doesn’t leave much room for biz-related information in this too-short book, but getting past those first pages is where the irritation subsides.

Browne continues by offering eye-opening stats; several interviews to prove that there are others experiencing similar issues; and points to ponder, interspersed with helpful info for employers and employees, both LGBT and straight.

If you’re interested in a biography, that’s here. The real appeal of this book, though, I think, is for the starter help it offers, and the modicum of support. For those small, brief reasons, The Glass Closet is worth a look-through.