'I believe supporting LGBT organizations will help to shake off prejudices about the oil industry'

Last edited: 25 October 2016

The UK’s Financial Times has published the inaugural OUTstanding Hall of Fame, featuring those who have made a significant contribution to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion in the workplace. BP’s chief executive for integrated supply and trading, Paul Reed, is among five individuals to be recognized

Why is it important for you – and BP – to be recognized by OUTstanding in Business?

I hope that the visibility gained through this publication sends a strong signal that diversity in all its forms is encouraged in BP and that the ability to be oneself at work leads both to greater performance and to personal contentment.

OUTstanding in Business is a professional UK network for LGBT executives, with the aim to inspire, connect, inform and increase their visibility in business. It promotes the fact that there are senior gay leaders who are successful and debunks the theory that sexuality is a barrier to progression. It is only recently that we have begun to see public figures at this level be out. No-one wants to be remembered for their sexuality; everyone wants to be remembered for being effective in business. No-one is interested in having a gay lobby pushed on them, but we should all be interested in creating the right environment, where everyone can feel comfortable and succeed.

I hope that the involvement of myself and others with groups such as OUTstanding in Business will provide a few more role models and encourage others to be more open. 

Do you think the oil and gas industry suffers from an ‘image problem’ when it comes to diversity and inclusion?

I think there are other industries – such as the media and latterly, the banks – who are much better at talking about this than we are. I want to be clear to potential recruits that BP is a welcoming environment where everyone can deliver of their best, no matter what their gender, race or sexuality.

I believe that supporting organizations such as OUTstanding will help to try to shake off prejudices that people may have about the oil and gas industry.

It is okay to be gay in business – and in BP. It does not affect your career prospects. Being closed might, because you are not giving fully of yourself.

Spending your time thinking about your work rather than hiding who you are I believe has benefits for the individual, his or her career, but also for the employer.

Do you believe barriers still exist for certain minority groups to fulfil their potential in business?

I think many barriers to the top are self-imposed for LGBT people, particularly among the more mature generation, many of whom still feel awkward talking about it. To a certain extent in their business world, sexuality is irrelevant, but it continues to be a point of interest with others. Some people do not want the publicity that might go with being a senior out leader - or they are concerned with being remembered for the wrong things.

Do you think that attitudes, particularly towards LGBT staff, are changing as new generations enter the workplace?

Not completely - I’ve met some of our newer employees who privately admit that they were happy being out at university but since joining BP, decided not to be out. I think that is a shame and is one of the reasons why I’d like to set an example that it is OK. But, the pendulum is shifting because, at the same time, there are plenty who are willing to be themselves. We’re just not totally where we want to be, though.

BP is a global business, operating in many countries with different cultures, religions and laws. How does it ensure that everyone’s views and beliefs are taken into consideration?

This can be difficult; our values indicate that we need to respect what everyone brings to the whole, but we cannot ignore the fact that some people live in countries where homosexuality is illegal and in some, punishable by death. It’s not about spending time trying to persuade everyone to think in the same way because that, again, betrays our objectives. But I do believe we should be practising tolerance and should recognize that some people find this very awkward and difficult.

Our values as a company include respect—and that also means respect for the way others think and are. We should exploit our differences and not fight them.

Have you experienced any prejudice in the workplace?

I began my career in BP more than 37 years ago and this is the only company where I’ve worked. I personally have not encountered any homophobia. It was really only in my late 40s that I stopped hiding myself at work and I was relatively senior by then.

I am aware, however, that there are some staff who have experienced prejudice and that is a source of disappointment. I believe it is becoming more isolated and I don’t think any sort of prejudice will be tolerated. The LGBT community does not want any special treatment, but where there is evidence of intolerance, we’ll uncover it and deal with it.

What’s the role of BP Pride?

Apart from being a place for LGBT staff to come together and network, BP Pride also helps with the recruitment and inclusion agendas. There are some 500 members in the UK, with related groups in the US and Singapore. We are also finding that there is interest from more mature employees, who are discovering that their children are gay. They approach the network to share their experiences – in what seems quite a new development. So, it’s not just a place for LGBT employees.

The group also promotes the ‘Straight Allies’ programme which engages straight people who are willing to support the LGBT agenda by making their team environments a ‘safe’ place to talk about it. Research has shown this is the strongest catalyst for making people feel comfortable about being out at work.
  • Four BP staff are among those named on OUTstanding rankings lists in 2016. As well as Paul Reed, they include Michael Sosso, vice president for ethics & compliance (Leading LGBT executives); Tamoor Ali, corporate finance manager (LGBT Future Leaders); and Andy Milnes, regional business unit leader for Global Oil Eastern Hemisphere (Leading Ally Executive).

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