The fact is: Sexuality remains a sensitive subject in big corporate environments, especially among C-suite executives. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that there's not a single openly gay CEO on the Fortune 1000 list. Even those who are widely reported to be gay have never publicly admitted it, a phenomenon often referred to as "the glass closet."
Faced with so much secrecy, it's no wonder promising gay business leaders are finding entrepreneurship a more attractive option. Plus, some research indicates that openly gay people might even be better suited to the job.
It's a vast generalization, of course, but according to Kirk Snyder, a professor of management communications at University of Southern California, openly gay executives may make better managers than straight or closeted executives. Snyder came to this conclusion while writing "The G Quotient: Why Gay Executives are Excelling as Leaders." His five-year study, published in 2006, consisted of interviews with both managers and employees at 2,000 businesses. The results of the study showed that employees working for gay managers reported 25 percent higher levels of employee engagement.
"What I found was that gay leaders value their employees as a whole, because they, themselves have experienced what it's like to be judged for one thing, rather than valued for who you are," Snyder says, adding that this experience not only makes for good managers, but for good entrepreneurs, as well.
"Everyone who's out of the closet has gone through a process of navigating unexpected territory and avoiding land mines," he says. "It's a developed skill that absolutely lends itself to entrepreneurial acumen."
Simkhai, for one, agrees. "As a gay person, you're by definition a minority and somewhat outside straight society," he says. "That makes me think differently, do things differently, and I think that's helped me in business."
Shareholder pressure is a big reason that CEOs of global companies aren't willing or able to come out. That, and the fact that in 29 states, it's still legal to fire someone for being gay.
According to Snyder, shareholder pressure is a big reason that CEOs of global companies aren't willing or able to come out. That, and the fact that in 29 states, it's still legal to fire someone for being gay.
Traditionally, Snyder says, members of the gay community became entrepreneurs so they could be their own gay-friendly bosses. "Necessity was the mother of invention, if you will," Snyder says.
Even as corporations become more gay-friendly places for employees, Snyder says, many openly gay people who are successful in corporate environments remain drawn to entrepreneurship.
"It's demotivating to see you can rise only so far, and then you're going to stop and hit your head on that glass ceiling," he says. "People who have achieved success in their own skin see no reason that progression of success should stop."