Apple CEO comes out in support of empathy

Discussion
Oct 31, 2014

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s public admission that he is gay provided confirmation to one of the worst kept personal secrets in corporate America. Mr. Cook’s editorial on the Bloomberg Businessweek site was noteworthy, however, not just for its social implications, but because of the message that organizations such as Apple that embrace diversity in its many forms are more likely to succeed in an increasingly competitive world.

"For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me," wrote Mr. Cook. "Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky."

Mr. Cook joins a very small number of openly gay executives. Others (via CNBC) include:

  • Robert Hanson, the former CEO of American Eagle Outfitters who now runs John Hardy, a jewelry company;
  • Christopher Bailey, CEO and chief creative officer at Burberry;
  • Trevor Burgess of C1 Financial;
  • Peter Thiel, former CEO of PayPal;
  • Rick Welts, president and COO of the Golden State Warriors.

"Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day," wrote Mr. Cook. "It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry."

Mr. Cook, who asked for and received support from Apple’s board before publishing his editorial, received praise through social media from other leaders, including former President Bill Clinton, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Virgin founder Richard Branson.

"We’ve taken huge strides in terms of diversity and gay equality," Suki Sandhu, CEO of OUTstanding, a non-profit that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) executives, told USA Today, "but there is clear evidence that homophobia still persists in the workplace, manifest in the harassment and lower pay for LGBT workers."

Will Tim Cook’s disclosure that he is gay have an effect on corporate culture in the U.S. and abroad? Do you think companies that embrace diversity in its many forms outperform those that are less open to individual differences?

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20 Comments on "Apple CEO comes out in support of empathy"


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Don Uselmann
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Don Uselmann
7 years 6 months ago

There is no question, in today’s rapidly changing and continually shrinking world, that diversity improves organizational performance. Difficult to embrace for some of the tenured and entrenched, but in time those organizations will or they will die. Hopefully Tim’s announcement will embolden others and increase the pace to truly evaluating leaders on their skills and competencies, their ability to manage and lead and nothing else.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

For those who love to say it doesn’t matter, I can tell you it does. The fact that it is notable tells us it does. Harvey Milk’s great legacy took a big step today. For every kid out there being told they are still sick, damned to hell, etc., it validates the fact that they can run one of the world’s premier companies.

In a nation where there are still 29 states where you can still be fired for being gay, I hope his announcement encourages others.

It matters.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

I think the next generation is very indifferent to these kinds of issues. The older folks might huff and puff, and we might hear a few words from those who feel it’s a religious abomination, but those voices, while loud, do not represent the majority of Americans.

I didn’t realize he hadn’t made the announcement before, I thought it was common knowledge. And I look forward to the day when no announcement is needed. Sort of like announcing, “Hello world, I have blue eyes.”

We are firmly in the 21st century now. This is the way it should be, success or failure is dictated by the market, not announcing your sexual preference.

Mohamed Amer
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Mohamed Amer
7 years 6 months ago

Social changes—manifested in perceptions and actual behavior—take a long time to evolve. Tim Cook’s disclosure is just one more step along that journey. Given that it was “one of the worst kept secrets in corporate America” the ripple effect may not be as wide or deep as some expect. Moreover and in general, the testosterone-filled Silicon Valley will continue to move in those circles.

Research indicates that diversity in senior leadership brings different perspectives and experiences which expand the business horizon and enhance decision outcomes.

What I find notable is that one has to justify diversity by linking it to business outcomes and not on its inherent merit of being human. The journey remains long when it comes to acceptance of differences in any sense of the word.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
7 years 6 months ago
I don’t think Cook’s disclosure (and why, by the way, do we think it is so shocking) is likely to have that much effect in the short run. Corporate culture is still both macho and homophobic and a committee of one may not be enough to change the environment. Since there are no hard numbers on the second question, let’s approach it as a logic exercise. If we posit that exceptional talent is found in all populations then we can reasonably assume the more inclusive a corporate culture is, the greater the potential that it will be able to access a broader talent pool and, tapping into this broader talent pool is more likely to lead to success than counting on a more homogeneous—but mediocre—set of employees for inspiration and creativity. Diversity is critical to success in many ways. Most companies suffer from a radical conformity of thought that puts blinders on them in terms of understanding customers, markets, competition and even their own associates. Uniform backgrounds tend to deliver uniform thinking, and that’s one… Read more »
Kevin Graff
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

We are all humans first and foremost. Not retailers. Not staff. Not customers. Not business leaders. Not shareholders.

It is that defining principle of “human first” that needs to drive all that we do. With that in mind, set aside the rather meaningless question of whether diversity can drive results. Accepting diversity is simply the human thing to do.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Kudos to Mr. Cook for coming out and saying what needed to be said. I applaud him for his candor, and saying it with the approval of his board. He has helped to move diversity to a point of acceptance by many who otherwise have disapproved. The world needs more acceptance and less negativity to those who are considered minorities.

David Livingston
Guest
7 years 6 months ago
Seems I always associate diversity with just creating make-work jobs to fill quotas for people who need special breaks. Once someone has proven they are a rainmaker, can deliver the goods, has strength, toughness, good work ethic and professionalism, everything else is unimportant. The fact the someone has a label put on them outside of those good characteristics might be important to other people with the same label. That label does not define them or make them special. What counts is can they deliver the goods. When the New Orleans Saints hired Tom Dempsey to be their place kicker, they were not trying to give a handicapped person a break. They wanted an accurate kicker who could kick 63 yard field goals. I’ll admit as a handicapped person myself, this was inspiring because this guy was worse off than me. Tomorrow Rosie Napravinik will be one of the few women jockeys ever to compete in the Breeders’ Cup. Forget the woman part, she is one of the top money-earning riders in the country. She delivers… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

It’s yet another small step in a long journey. Embracing diversity is, or should be, common sense—corporately, politically and personally. It’s disappointing that it is so rarely practiced.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Tim Cook’s disclosure may have an effect on companies that are in the process of accepting or embracing diversity. For companies that do not embrace diversity it is valuable for them to see that accepting diversity can lead to a vibrant, innovative, successful company. However, they may not have the desire, strength or tools to move beyond their comfort zone. Staying in that comfort zone, however, makes it difficult to notice change, accept it and plan for it. As a result, they will stay locked in a one-dimensional niche while the rest of the world moves on.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

There is study after study that indicates that corporations that are more diverse ethnically, geographically and in gender outperform companies that are largely run by white males. I don’t think any of these studies included a measure for gays. However, I believe the same holds true.

I believe Cook’s objective, and rightfully, is not for companies to embrace diversity, but for people to say “so what.” To make it all a non-issue.

The challenge is that we have used these measures of gender and gender preference, religion, where people come from and skin color to separate ourselves from others. And that separation also says we are better than they are. Tim Cook at Apple, Mary Barra at GM and Barack Obama in the White House make those assumptions harder and harder to support. That is why this is important.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Mr. Cook’s editorial is a gift to all of us. Let’s hope that other gay executives will have the courage to tell the truth as well. I’m looking forward to the day when we don’t even have these conversations anymore.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
Carol Spieckerman
7 years 6 months ago

Calling Mr. Cook’s lifestyle a “worst-kept secret” perpetuates an unfortunate standard that only tends to only be applied to sexual preference: That anything that isn’t deliberately and openly declared to all is a “secret.” Mr. Cook didn’t “come out,” he spoke out. Knowing that he could afford to make an open disclosure and that others still can’t (or feel as though they shouldn’t), he stepped out of his private comfort zone to help those whose personal lives remain secret. He could have stayed in a “it shouldn’t matter” bubble, but didn’t. That’s called character and leadership.

David Zahn
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

I think the question as posed is too provincial, as it is U.S.-focused. While there may be some challenges to overcome between the coasts of the United States on this issue, my interest is more global. Will international customers abandon the product or refuse to purchase it on the basis of the CEO’s love life? Will employees leave or prospective employees refuse to interview with Apple?

I find that question more interesting than being self-congratulatory or hand-wringing over this calamity here in the United States. I am more intrigued by the reception and actions beyond our own shores.

Lee Peterson
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

It’s just great that he did this. I mean, it’s about time this country realized that being gay doesn’t mean you’re a tiny, insignificant minority that can just be dismissed as “those people.” Hello! Your boss may be gay too!

Hopefully, soon, it’ll become a “so?” issue and we won’t have to have blogs about it.

Tom Smith
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Sadly not. Haters gonna hate.

Companies that embrace diversity outperform those that are less open to individual preferences if for no other reasons than they: 1) value critical thinking; 2) accept anyone that can help them achieve and innovate; and, 3) are in alignment with, the firm’s vision, mission and values.

In addition, states that are intolerant are going to be less successful attracting businesses that aspire to diversity and inclusion.

vic gallese
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Well in the year of 2014, I view this close to a non event, as it should be. I do believe that companies that embrace diversity will outperform other “closed” companies in the long run just due to the fact that they will attract a larger pool of qualified employees. Stands to reason that companies who support diversity also support input from all levels and most likely have a broader view of the world and their role in it.

Good for Tim Cook and Apple!

Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
7 years 6 months ago

Yesterday, I saw the following piece trending: “Pope Francis declares evolution and Big Bang theory are real and God is not ‘a magician with a magic wand.'” Today, Tim Cook discloses he is gay. Both big steps in the “the journey.” But we here on the this board are not so lucky. Our world involves issues that may never be resolved. As an example, how about this:

“JCPenney Names New CEO But Where’s The Vision?”

James Tenser
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Tim Cook’s sexual orientation would be entirely unremarkable in a just world, but unfortunately that is not yet true. By speaking out he adds incrementally to the dialog that should lead us toward a more inclusive cultural norm.

Well done, Tim. You possess a platform and you leveraged it in a matter-of-fact, commendable manner. On balance, I’d say Apple will gain support that more than offsets any negative response.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
7 years 6 months ago

I think I am among the likely vast majority of people who do not care one way or another what Cook’s sexual orientation is. I do not believe, though, it’s altogether wise for any CEO to ever make it more about himself or herself the person, than about the company or the product. I think he could have accomplished the same things he claims he wants to in a different, better manner, perhaps.

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