Does coming out as gay or lesbian harm your BBC career?

Rupert Everett on Andrew Marr show Actor Rupert Everett warned his younger counterparts that coming out could harm their chances of getting leading roles

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Last year, business editor Robert Peston blogged about how Colin (Lord) Browne, former CEO of BP, claimed that the arts and media were much more tolerant of gay and lesbian workers than other working environments such as business and finance.

Speaking at an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) event for a global engineering and design firm, Browne said being openly gay was something he never felt he could embrace, until he resigned from BP in 2007.

But are the arts and media really more tolerant? Or is that just another stereotype? The Independent recently published an article claiming that Hollywood - regarded as that most 'liberal' of work environments - isn't all it's cracked up to be. Journalist Geoffrey Macnab claims that gay stars still hesitate to come out.

Start Quote

I'm lucky, in that being gay has never caused me any issues in my career - at the BBC or elsewhere”

End Quote Adrian Ruth Controller of Strategy, Chair of BBC Pride

In a recent episode of BBC's Hard Talk, Rupert Everett also warned young, ambitious actors not to come out if they wanted to play leading roles. Presenter Clare Balding has said in interviews that she was initially wary of coming out when she was at Radio 5 Live, although she concedes that 'things have changed now'.

It may be that the industry is harder on presenters and those in the public eye. Macnab says that behind-the-scenes gay executives have never had to hide their sexuality as much as on-air performers.

Gay execs

Indeed, there is some controversial research which seems to prove that gay executives actually make better managers. When USC business-school professor Kirk Snyder published the results of a five-year study of executives, he caused an online frenzy.

Snyder's study showed that gay execs deliver 35 to 60 percent higher levels of employee engagement, satisfaction, and morale than straight bosses.

The research also developed and underpinned his thesis that gay execs tend to be overachievers, emotionally intelligent (partly because they may have been bullied when young and develop a more heightened antennae) and have superior 'masking' abilities, something all CEOs need to be good at.

Diversity Centre poster The Diversity Centre's posters will appear this month

He also found they were more adaptable, entrepreneurial and focused on innovation. All of which adds up to better results for companies.

Some of the most vociferous online comment to kick against this came from gay websites and online forums with visceral stories about 'horrible' gay and lesbian former managers. Other LGBT comment eschewed the 'gays are special' argument, claiming that it is more important for people to be the same rather than differentiated.

Nonetheless, the business world sat up and took notice. And if it helps to lend a more supportive and positive work environment to out LGBT executives, then the research should be welcomed.

Five percent

So how about coming out at the BBC? Is it career damaging?

The most recent figures point to around 5.2% LGBT representation at senior management level - although it is hard to say if this figure is good, or not good enough. Collecting data on LGBT communities and sizes is a very complex business, as research from the University of Kent shows.

However, while researching this article I spoke to a number of lesbian and gay colleagues in the BBC who said it 'just isn't an issue'.

Adrian Ruth, controller of strategy and chair of BBC Pride, the BBC's LGBT staff network, says:

'I'm lucky, in that being gay has never caused me any issues in my career - at the BBC or elsewhere. I appreciate that it's not always so easy for everyone; I've met plenty of others who haven't been so fortunate.

'A tolerant, supportive workplace is one where employees can be themselves and truly excel, without any barriers holding them back.'

Amanda Rice, head of diversity says: 'We've made good progress to ensure LGBT staff feel supported, and Tim Davie's leadership of the LGBT steering group has been crucial to keeping lesbian, gay, bi and transgender portrayal stories on the BBC's agenda.'

LGBT history month

She also pointed to the Diversity Centre marking LGBT History Month this February with a series of posters aimed at staff. The website also has a blog written by Sue Sanders, the legendary co-founder of LGBT History Month.

This month, Rice will be hosting a panel at the annual Lesbian Lives conference in Brighton with BBC News presenter Jane Hill, senior adviser Kim Thomas in editorial policy, and producer and co-chair of BBC Pride Kathy Caton.

In March the Diversity Centre will join with BBC Pride to give a deeper insight into the findings and implications of the LGB research that has been recently updated.

Meanwhile, the Writersroom has launched a transgender comedy award for original writing about the transgender experience.

Perhaps Lord Browne is right: the arts and media - including the BBC - do indeed offer a friendlier environment for LGBT colleagues who decide to come out at work.

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