Tim Cook’s pride may expand corporate talent pool

October 30, 2014

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The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Tim Cook’s pride may expand the corporate talent pool. The Apple chief executive’s decision to speak publicly about being gay should help advance the slow march toward acceptance. As boss of the world’s biggest company by market value, Cook could inspire others, giving C-suites and boardrooms more choice. They need it.

For an enterprise widely known for confidentiality, Cook’s sexual orientation wasn’t exactly a secret. Cook says many of his Apple colleagues were aware. For three years, Out magazine also put him atop its list of the most powerful gay people. And he has taken clear positions against discrimination of gay and transgender people.

His first public acknowledgement of being gay, in a Bloomberg Businessweek column published on Thursday, nevertheless represents a landmark. It’s extremely rare for the CEO of any sizable company to come out. One of the last notable examples was former BP boss John Browne, who did so under pressure in 2007 and later resigned. Cook’s timing and language set a decidedly different tone: “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

Apple also owns a platform beyond its widely used operating system. Its brand is the world’s most valuable, according to Interbrand Consultancy. While it may not be a surprise that the charge would be led by a technology company with headquarters just 40 miles from one of the most gay-friendly cities in the United States, Apple’s $625 billion perch is a highly visible one.

Despite a notable dearth of women, Silicon Valley in many respects understands the value of a meritocracy. One talented engineer or scientist is worth scores of mediocre ones. Any company able to hire, say, the next Alan Turing – the father of computer science who killed himself in 1954 after being convicted of homosexual acts – knows it would have a huge leg up on rivals.

The advantages of tolerance extend to all industries, though. By bringing attention to a minority group the way he has, Cook may help blaze a trail in workplaces in a similar way that others have done in Hollywood, sports and beyond. If more executives and employees feel secure about themselves, the employers that accept them should gain a competitive edge. Closed-minded rivals will be the only losers.

PHOTO: Apple CEO Tim Cook. REUTERS

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