Tim Cook makes the case for an inclusive workplace

Paul Hinks

So Tim Cook is gay. The announcement wasn’t so much about the ‘outing’ of Tim Cook, as a message that openly supports diversity and equality in the workplace. The fact that Tim Cook is CEO of Apple, America’s largest firm, adds gravitas to the story.

Race, gender, age, disability, sexual preference are all topics with which organizations have to grapple. Firms are keen to demonstrate they are operating a diverse and ethical workplace where everyone has their fair chance regardless of their personal circumstance or outlook. Perhaps too many firms ‘talk the talk’ with the aim of ticking a box in a corporate brochure?

Tim Cook’s announcement provides an authentic message that Apple is an organization that understands the importance of providing support to ‘their most important asset’. Harnessing different perspectives from a diverse workforce provides a win:win – people with different values and background see things differently from those who are turned into generic corporate clones – walking and talking a certain way – it can all become a bit a dull, boring and predictable. Tim Cook’s announcement is not about him per se; it’s about promoting equality and diversity – and perhaps re-enforcing a culture that can provoke creativity and innovation.

Tim Cook has never denied being gay, but he is acknowledged and recognized as being a private individual. So to publicly make a statement about a private and personal matter, and then place the context of the statement around support for others deserves credit and recognition.

The New York Times provided insight and a deeper perspective:

As Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, put it, “He’s chief executive of the Fortune One. This is Tim Cook and Apple. This will resonate powerfully.”

Mr. Cook was plainly reluctant, and, as he put it in his essay in Bloomberg Businessweek, “I don’t seek to draw attention to myself.” But, he wrote, he came to the realization that “If hearing that the C.E.O. of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

Mr. Cook’s essay also seemed carefully drafted to be inclusive, to embrace anyone who feels different or excluded, which could broaden its impact far beyond the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Mr. Cook was “wonderfully candid about why it was difficult for him to come out,” said Kenji Yoshino, a constitutional law professor at New York University and co-author of “Uncovering Talent: a New Model for Inclusion.”

“When I give presentations on diversity and inclusion in organizations, I often start by noting that of the Fortune 500 C.E.O.s, 5 percent are women, 1 percent are black and zero percent are openly gay,” Professor Yoshino said.

In his essay, Mr. Cook wrote that he was many things besides being gay: “an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic.” Professor Yoshino noted: “When Drew Faust became the first female president of Harvard, she made a similar point. ‘I am not the woman president of Harvard,’ she said. ‘I’m the president of Harvard.’ ”

Apple’s future success

Since taking over the leadership of Apple from Steve Jobs in 2011, Tim Cook has demonstrated that he can successfully pilot the largest corporation in America. Tim Cook is not Apple’s ‘gay’ CEO, he’s Apple’s current and successful CEO.

In terms of competitiveness, Apple is currently riding the crest of a wave. The recent product launch of the iPhone 6 broke all records – so there’s no obvious need for a cheap publicity stunt. Tim Cook’s announcement shouldn’t be seen much as statement about himself, rather his statement symbolises the importance of providing an inclusive, diverse and stimulating workplace, one which supports new ideas, aims to look at the same situation from different perspectives – a culture true to Apple’s values – one which fosters creativity and innovation.

In the future, perhaps Tim Cook’s announcement will be reflected upon as the time when Apple took a leadership position in supporting diversity and equality in a positive and effective way. It will be interesting to see how many other industry leaders follow Mr Cook’s lead.

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