Op-ed: Are We More Successful Because We’re Gay?
A recent survey conducted by Prudential found that LGBT wage earners had significantly higher incomes than the average American. Based on its survey of more than 1,000 people, Prudential concluded that LGBT people have a higher level of education, access to better-paying jobs, and more disposable income. But we think there's more to this story.
People often ask us why we are successful at what we do, and we usually say it’s because we work really hard, we stay really focused, and we've been really lucky.
When people ask if being gay has hurt us in our business, we answer that it has actually made us more successful. Why do we say this?
Early On, We Learned Who We Are
Both of us knew early in life that we were “different.” As most gay kids do, we tried to suppress this core aspect of ourselves as a way to “fit in.” Bob came out early and Jim was a bit of a late bloomer (finally/sort-of out at age 25). In both cases, our paths served us well as we had to look inward early in life and figure out who we are. Knowing and accepting ourselves provided a huge head start down the success path. We discovered what we like and dislike and what our strengths and weaknesses are.
Knowing and accepting ourselves gave us a big boost in self-confidence, a huge key to success. In running our company, we need to make decisions that are impactful to our business and to the people who work for us and with us. We can’t be shy. We often go boldly forward because we have the self-confidence to do so.
We sometimes feel sorry for the straight kid who does not have the same need to figure out who he or she is, or why they are unique, because they already fit in. They aren’t challenged in the same way LGBT people are.
Despite some challenges with being different in the straight business world, overall it has been a big advantage for us, because we learned early who we are and we made the most of it.
Being Different Is an Advantage
In business, being the same or fitting in is not the way to get ahead of the pack. When we first started in the straight-dominated business world, we felt the need to comply and work just a bit under the radar. In reality, the opposite approach has made the most impact.
Sometimes a few words of advice, offered at the right moment, make a difference. In our case it was an Alan Ashley-Pitt quotation, given to Jim by a friend who saw him as anxious about being gay in the straight business world. This quote still hangs on the wall at the office.
“Creativity in living is not without its attendant difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt. You have two choices in your life; you can dissolve into the mainstream, or you can be distinct. To be distinct, you must be different. To be different, you must strive to be what no one else but you can be.”
We have learned that one of our greatest strengths is that we simply are ourselves. We think differently than our competitors because we are different, and this leads to a different way of doing things. Advantage gay.
Maybe We’re Hormonal
Maybe our business success is a hormonal thing. A recent study by researchers at Louis H Lafontaine Hospital and the Centre for Studies on Human Stress in Canada concluded that gay men have lower stress levels than straight men. The study also found that out gays have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, than closeted gays. Did our coming out lower our stress levels and boost our abilities?
Anyone who is an entrepreneur knows that running your own business comes with all sorts of stress. If this study is right, it may be another leg up for out gays in business.
The Time Poverty Factor
This is changing rapidly, but in our early days, there was no expectation of us being gay with children. It was not an option, unless we repressed our gayness and went in a faux-straight direction with marriage, kids, and all that goes with that life choice. Having children would have been great, but for us it would have taken time and focus away from our business.
Raising a family takes a lot of time, energy, and resources. Not having the responsibility of children, we were able focus on building a business. Thus, here is another advantage (of sorts) of being gay business people.
Do we regret not having children? Sometimes. Are we happy that we stayed focused on the business and have now reached a level of success we had not anticipated? Definitely.
The Gay Advantage in the Future
When the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is finally passed and the Defense of Marriage Act and other barriers to marriage equality are removed, will gays find they have more limits to success? Will we lose some of our difference, our business advantage?
We think that the quest for equalization may bring about obligations and “distractions” that could take focus away from the quest for success. Marriage equality will no doubt bring about a greater number of married gays as well as greater assimilation into society. Will it also bring about equalization in the success statistics with our straight counterparts? We think it might.
But then, what is success? It’s not all about the money.
JIM BURBA AND BOB HAYES have been partners in life and business for more than 20 years. As cofounders of Burba Hotel Network, this couple has formed a power partnership that has become the worldwide leader in developing and producing conferences for the hotel and tourism investment industry. Since 2000 their events have attracted nearly 80,000 delegates in 22 countries. Follow them at BurbaHayes.com or @BurbaHayes