IT IS great news that Tim Cook has chosen to declare that he is proud to be gay. Unfair discrimination is abhorrent, and such high-profile statements can only help to end any lingering sense that public homosexuality is incompatible with a senior position in business life.
At the same time, we should not be surprised to see business embracing diversity. Commerce, by its nature, allows even ideological strangers to see past their differences to shared goals of human betterment. As Voltaire wrote in his Letters on the English in the early 1700s, “Go into the London Stock Exchange… and you will see representatives of all nations gathered there for the service of mankind. There the Jew, the Mohammedan, and the Christian deal with each other as if they were of the same religion, and give the name of infidel only to those who go bankrupt.”
In the City as elsewhere, there is always more to do – and where commerce becomes more open, so it also becomes more welcoming. The Big Bang deregulation of the 1980s helped make the City more meritocratic, more diverse and more successful. Today, that process continues: this summer Glencore was the final FTSE 100 firm to appoint a female director.
Gary Becker won the economics Nobel in 1992 in part for his pioneering work on discrimination. He showed that if employers discriminate they impose costs on themselves, and how competition limits such destructive unfairness while regulation can abet it.
Discrimination remains all too real, but Becker noted in his Nobel lecture that in the long run it is discrimination by employees and customers that competition cannot so easily assuage. The fight against such cultures of prejudice is never-ending, but as with Tim Cook at Apple, business is on the side of open minds, not closed ones.
Marc Sidwell is City A.M.’s executive editor