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February 5, 2023

Now Would be a Good Time for Closeted Gay Partners to Come Out

According to this recent piece over at the Wharton Knowledge blog, it's starting to look like just a matter of time before a Fortune 500 CEO gets the balls (or, ovaries, if applicable) to come out of the closet:

Being gay or lesbian in America in the past half decade has meant watching barriers fall in some surprising quarters. Institutions as seemingly unyielding as marriage, the military and professional sports have opened their doors to a degree unimaginable just a few years ago. But the way is still barred to one coveted spot: In the U.S., where attitudes have evolved most dramatically, no openly gay CEO exists in the Fortune 500, many note.

Not a one. There's a small chance none of them are gay but the more likely explanation for the lack of out CEOs is the fact that it's still not that cool to be gay, at least not in corporate America.

Fret not, champions of diversity, it's coming:

“Once that top CEO comes out, which I think will be in the next year, then you’re going to see some others,” notes Kirk Snyder, a corporate diversity consultant and professor of clinical management communication at the University of Southern California. “Whoever that first guy or woman is — wow, they are going to go down in history forever. Once we have one, two or three CEOS out of the closet, and everyone sees that the companies are just as successful, the other folks in the closet thinking ‘I can’t’ will [come out]. It’s an extremely important message to send.”

What would compel a closeted accounting firm partner to step boldly across that threshold and proudly declare to the world "I am a gay professional"? Easy. Profits.

After decades of being silent on the subject of its GLBT workers, or sometimes being openly hostile to them, corporate America has largely decided that they are good for business. Last year, as the Supreme Court was weighing whether to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a wide swath of American corporations from BlackRock to Walt Disney signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief urging its repeal. DOMA was infringing upon the rights of companies to conduct business as they saw fit by asking firms to renounce their principles, “or worse yet, betray them,” the brief stated. Marriage equality, these corporations concluded, was a positive step for American business.

Remember, the firms talk all the time about how diverse teams are good for their bottom line (how, exactly, we aren't sure — we think they're just saying that because they think they have to say that), but as we already know, if they truly meant that, we'd see a larger number of gay, female, non-caucasian leaders. The bummer is that closeted white guys look just like regular white guys — leaving all this untapped potential to tout how inclusive and diverse a firm is. Isn't that their whole shtick?

We smell a huge opportunity here for accounting to lead the way. After all, wasn't it Barry Melancon himself who said the faces of clients are changing, therefore the faces of the profession need to change? We've got your back, closeted partners.

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