One of the UK’s most senior banking executives has said his sexuality helped him rise to the top.
António Simões, the chief executive of HSBC UK, said that being gay had made him “a more authentic person, better able to empathise, and with more emotional intelligence. If I wasn’t gay, probably I wouldn’t be CEO of the bank.”
Simões, a 39-year-old Portuguese national, who took charge of HSBC’s UK business in 2012, said he thought gay people had a “personal duty at the professional level to come out of the closet”.
“If we want to live in a true meritocracy, the only thing that should matter is what you can do and not what you are.”
The banking executive was speaking in an interview with the Portuguese newspaper Expresso, which was first reported in English by the Sunday Times.
Once described by Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, as a “poster child for diversity in the City”, Simões was named as the most influential openly gay executive by the awareness group OUTstanding in Business in 2013.
Lord Browne, who became a campaigner for gay rights in the City after being outed by a Sunday tabloid in 2007, has spoken of his regret at staying in the closet during a 38-year career at BP. He has called for companies to do more to make it easier for people to come out at work and “feel safe to be who they are”.
According to the US-based Center for Talent Innovation, 41% of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) do not feel comfortable disclosing their sexuality at work, while another US-study found that 62% of LGBT graduates go back into the closet on taking their first job.
Despite being hailed as a role model, Simões still gets asked what his wife does for a living.
“Sometimes I reply, ‘My husband also works in the financial area’, or ‘My husband will divorce me if I don’t get home in time to walk the dogs’, but English society is so politically correct – particularly in London – that we live in this kind of ‘acceptability bubble’ where people will say absolutely nothing,” he said.
Simões suggested his age, nationality and even thinning hair could have limited his success – but not his sexuality.
“I recently said at a conference that it is much stranger – and statistically more improbable – that a 39-year-old Portuguese is CEO of HSBC UK than the fact that the CEO of the bank is gay,” he said.
“It’s never going to happen again in the history of HSBC that a 39-year-old short, bald, Portuguese becomes CEO of the bank but I hope – in fact, I am sure – that we will have a lot more gay CEOs for generations to come.
The high-flying banker joined HSBC in 2007, following stints at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. He took charge of the UK arm of HSBC at a time when banks were facing public opprobrium over bankers’ bonuses, mis-selling services and flouting US financial sanctions.
Many people who work at HSBC were reluctant to admit they worked in banking, Simões said. “This is a problem because 99.99% of the people who work for us have never been involved in the PPI scandal or other problems of British banking. It’s not their fault.
“We are talking about normal people who like to be in the pub at 6pm or 7pm and yet are ashamed to say, ‘I work for the bank.’ They prefer to say, ‘I work in financial services or IT.’”
Simões said he still has “a lot of pride” in being a banker. “After all, I think that the banking system can – or should – be a force for economic development.”
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