There are zero publicly gay CEOs at any Fortune 500 companies, according to New York Times columnist James Stewart.
In his June column, Stewart pointed out that there might be a number of gay CEOs at those companies, but none of them are willing to publicly acknowledge their sexuality.
In fact, it was Stewart’s column that had led to that awkward moment on CNBC where Simon Hobbs mistakenly outed Apple CEO Tim Cook as being gay.
So why exactly is this happening?
We asked Peter Thiel, one of the very few business executives to have publicly come out as gay.
Thiel wanted to be careful with his comments, pointing out that “It’s always a very personal decision.” But he said one of the main reasons for the lack of gay CEOs — at least in public — could be a “perception of discrimination.”
“A lot of these businesses are global in reach, and when you have customers all over the world, it becomes a question of ‘Will they hold that (being gay) against you?'” Thiel told Business Insider.
He continued, “I think that there is this globalization element to it that sort of cuts in a weirdly different way. It’s not really a question of how tolerant people are in California.”
Thiel added the same thing happens with celebrities in LA, who tend to not acknowledge their sexuality in public out of fear of losing their global audience. “You could say Hollywood is very tolerant of gay people, but the movie viewers, the global audience, is what makes people nervous (about coming out).”
He also said it could be a generational issue, since a lot of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are older, and we’ll see more of them come out in the next decade or two.
“It would be great if people were more courageous,” Thiel said. “But it’s a personal decision and I don’t judge people one way or another.”
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