I was intrigued to find a book review in an academic journal about a study that was done all the way back in 2006 on the dearth of gay executives in corporate America. Intrigued on two counts actually: 1) that I had never heard of this study and 2) that the review was appearing so long after it was conducted and published. Well, it turns out, the answers to both are kind of interrelated.
The very title of the study, and book , by Kirk Snyder, a professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, says a lot — The G Quotient: Why Gay Executives are Excelling as Leaders … and What Every Manager Needs to Know. The findings are also substantive and compelling: As Snyder was studying employee engagement, he noticed that employees of gay executives often had higher levels of job satisfaction than employees of other leaders.
“What he noticed was a connection between some characteristics of gay male executives and what were considered desirable [business leadership] principles, including diversity, creativity and emotional intelligence,” writes Irene F. Stein, an associate core faculty member at the University of the Rockies, in her book review (same title as the book) that appeared in the November 2013 issue of the Journal of Psychological Issues in Organizational Culture.
Snyder then explains the reasons he thinks many gay executives operate naturally under what he has named the “G Quotient” — seven principles of leadership he found he could actually measure using a simple assessment: inclusion, creativity, adaptability, connectivity, communication, intuition and collaboration.
“Much of the connection [between gay business leaders and these seven principles] stems from growing up knowing they are different, and having to adapt to the realities of their environment to feel safe,” Stein writes. “Consequently, gay men develop three fundamental learned skills — adaptability, intuitive communication and creative problem solving — skills that are often demonstrated by gay executives.” Not to mention effective leaders.
So why did Kenneth Sherman, editor-in-chief of JPIOC, assign this fascinating book review to Stein some eight years after Snyder’s study and book publication? Because, as he told me when I called him, too few people have heard about it (myself included). More importantly, at the time it was written, no Fortune 500 CEOs were openly gay and “I still haven’t heard of a single CEO coming out since.”
So does Sherman think corporate America actually needs this infusion? Well, yes, he does. But it goes beyond simply being gay. He says the real message here for employers and HR leaders is that gay business leaders’ effective leadership skills come from the ways in which “they developed their own pathways of adult development and [the fact that] the things they may have encountered at various stages of their lives have predisposed them to certain sensitivities that aren’t really negative things, but positive things.”
If more top business leaders would “simply go around the room” at the next staff or business — or even executive-leadership — meeting and “hear their people’s stories about the challenges of their lives and the things they have rebounded from and now champion,” he says, “the business world would be less rigid,” and all employees would be more engaged and satisfied.
“And guess what,” he says, “companies are going through difficult and strenuous times too.” In other words, he explains, the dialogue could go both ways and workforces would be connected and more productive in ways we can only imagine at this point. “Change,” he says, “comes in small increments.”
I called Stein, too, just to get her take. She says she agrees with Snyder “that the more we can accept everyone’s perspective, including gender identification, the better it will be for business.”
To her, she says, “it’s really the same kind of thing with what women can bring to the workplace … kind of having a more holistic view of employees [and business leaders] and wanting them to bring their whole selves” to work.
I guess considering Stein’s point about women, Sherman’s “small-increments” reference makes sense. Look how long it’s taken us to fully incorporate women into the workplace. And we’re still not there yet, not in terms of pay equity, executive ranks, board representation … or, yes indeed, female CEOs.