ADVICE

5 of the world’s most influential LGBTQ business leaders

SOURCE: JIM YOUNG / AFP
In 2014, Tim Cook became the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company.


By Shekinah Kannan 

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As Pride Month comes to a close, the fight for LGBTQ inclusivity remains strong. 

To show our support, U2B has covered several issues on the topic, including the art of championing an inclusive workplace, the most LGBTQ-friendly business schools, and some of the most LGBTQ-friendly companies in the world. In this article, we’re featuring a few influential LGBTQ business leaders.

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Traditional corporate boardroom profiles traditionally include males and those who identify themselves as straight and cisgender, but times have changed. Today, we’re gradually seeing a growing representation of LGBTQ staff in the workplace, including business leaders.

Some are running huge companies and working towards shifting the culture in the process, including expanding the rights of LGBTQ staff, among others.

In honour of Pride Month, here are five LGBTQ business leaders who have made significant contributions to the community they are proud to be a part of:

Tim Cook

In 2014, Tim Cook became the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. In an open letter to Bloomberg, Cook stated that his decision to come out stemmed from receiving countless letters from children struggling with their sexual orientation.

He wrote: “If hearing that the CEO 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.” 

Today, LGBTQ inclusivity goes far beyond Apple Watch Pride Edition bands and an annual Pride Month parade. Employees connect through its Diversity Network Associations, which supports employee-led groups that foster a culture of belonging through awareness, leadership programmes and more.

Jim Fitterling

Cook’s announcement inspired Jim Fitterling, chairman and CEO of Dow to do the same during an internal meeting in 2014, after 35 years as a closeted executive. Since coming out, Fitterling has encouraged Dow employees to feel comfortable enough to be open and honest about their sexual orientation. 

Fitterling has also appointed the company’s first chief inclusion officer. In 2018, he flew a rainbow flag outside Dow’s Missouri headquarters. He’s also nabbed the top spot on FT’s OUTstanding list and joined Out Leadership’s Global Advisory Board.

Inga Beale

Former CEO of Lloyd’s of London and the company’s first female CEO, Inga Beale, is openly bisexual. During her tenure, she strived for change, launching LGBTQ employee resource group Pride@Lloyd’s, modernised Lloyd’s business practices and positively improved its company culture. For her bravery and outstanding leadership, in 2017, the Queen named her Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

“Legislation for equality and anti-discrimination policies have been introduced in many countries but there is still more to be done,” she said. “We must not become complacent as it is easy for progressive enhancements to human rights to be taken away at the whim of those in power.”

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Sylvia Ng

Managing director and head of business development in Greater China for HSBC, Sylvia Ng is openly a lesbian. Ng is well-known for being involved in the first bond insurance by a foreign bank in mainland China. However, she’s done far more for her community.

Ng has been instrumental in HSBC’s efforts to engage LGBTQ employees. She has also served as a mentor to employees and allies in other companies. Today, she continues to tackle cultural acceptance of LGBTQ people in Asia. In 2019, she was awarded the Out-Standing LGBT+ Role Model award that was supported by Yahoo Finance.

Joel Simkhai

Founder and former CEO of Grindr, a popular dating app for men, Joel Simkhai has always been open about his own sexuality. He built the platform, which was acquired by Kunlun, to promote gay right and raise money for LGBTQ causes.

Grindr did just that in 2019, giving a total of US$100,000 to different LGBTQ health and rights organisations in the Middle East and North Africa.