• Jennifer Westacott and Alan Joyce were both profiled in the AFR's Outstanding 50 list . (AAP)
“I don’t mind being a CEO who happens to be gay, but you didn’t want to be the ‘gay CEO’.”
By
Ben Winsor

2 Dec 2016 - 4:07 PM  UPDATED 2 Dec 2016 - 4:07 PM

The Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine has today published The Outstanding 50, a list of 50 openly LGBT+ Australian business leaders.

It includes high-profile faces, such as Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, Managing Director of SBS, Michael Ebeid, and Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce.

“In the workplace, where everyday actions affect careers, half of LGBTI employees feel they have to mask their sexuality,” the feature explains.

The list was the brainchild of 25-year-old Andrew Cumberlidge, a transfer tax pricing specialist who found Australia to be backwards when it came to LGBT+ visibility in the workplace

“What I’ve seen in Australia among friends and colleagues, are people who are often out and proud in their personal lives, but who choose to adopt a neutral or even heterosexual persona in their professional lives,” Cumberlidge tells the AFR.

This realisation, and desire to improve the visibility of LGBT+ role models in Australian business, led him to develop the list, with the support of Boss Magazine and Deloitte.

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Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, says that companies have a duty to foster a culture of openness and disclosure, which includes training middle management in diversity issues.

“We clearly have to accommodate diversity, accommodate difference. This is my big message to employers, diversity in its proper form – not just gender, albeit that’s hugely important – to me, it’s actually the best protection against disruption,” she tells the AFR.

Westacott’s experiences at work have been mostly positive, with senior leaders at KPMG and Wesfarmers making an effort to recognise the couple at events and meetings in the same way that other partners were recognised.

When she was in her thirties working for the NSW government, she came out to a senior public official.

Alan Joyce, CEO of QANTAS, tells the paper he was originally paranoid when he first took the job.

“I don’t mind being a CEO who happens to be gay, but you didn’t want to be the ‘gay CEO’,” he says.

“Even though you think we’ve made great progress in this country, generally around the globe, there are a lot of young people who have come up to me and talked about the problems that they are experiencing in their careers,” Joyce says.

One aspiring pilot thanked him for his visibility, another person told Joyce that his openness helped  had helped them recover from suicidal thoughts over their sexuality. 

“They felt there was hope, that you could have a career, you could have a life, and that was, to me, very inspirational – I didn’t know you could have that type of impact on people’s lives,” he tells the AFR.

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Some of the interviews for the piece were particularly revealing.

Pippa Downes, a former partner at Goldman Sachs, says it is harder to be a woman than it is to be gay.

”For most successful gay women, the gender issue is a lot more to deal with than being gay,” she tells the paper, noting that unconscious gender bias occurs with greater frequency than homophobia.

“It’s harder to be a woman. Being gay is a second order issue,” she says.

The full list of 50 leaders and their profiles appear as the cover story of Boss Magazine in today’s issue of the AFR, you can also check it out online.

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