Open for Business

While the initial generation of gay activism was ignited in the streets, the up-and-coming set of business students are sharpening the skills needed to propel the movement further

BY Michelle Garcia

March 12 2008 12:00 AM ET

“It
changed my life,” says Eng. “It opened my eyes
to the reality of things and how Wall Street,
investment banks, and firms are really reaching out
and targeting gay people. From there I wanted to convey that
message back to the business school for the people who were
like me.”

Going to the
conference encouraged him to join the Wharton Alliance for
undergraduate business students, the only undergraduate
preprofessional organization dedicated to gender and
sexuality minorities, according to its website. A year
later he is now president of the two-year-old group.
Eng says that his involvement with the Wharton Alliance has
encouraged him to be out and active in his life and
work.

“I would
much rather choose an LGBT-friendly firm than one
that’s unfriendly or even one that’s
neutral about it,” he says. Even better would
be a place in a proactive firm with already established LGBT
practices and programs. And Eng has a good chance of finding
that perfect company to work for. Opportunities for
LGBT business students looking for work in
gay-friendly companies are staggering compared to just a
decade ago.

In 2002 only 13
of the nation’s most powerful companies received a
100 score from Human Rights Campaign’s annual
Corporate Equality Index, awarded for providing
programs like domestic-partnership benefits and
companywide gay groups. This year 195 of the companies
scored 100, with many others scoring nearly as high.
Furthermore, 32 banking and financial service
companies attained a perfect score, the highest of any
industry in the study.

This explains why
conferences like Out for Undergraduate Business and
Reaching Out MBA are teeming with companies looking to
introduce themselves to LGBT students. Jennings calls
these conferences a “pipeline for
talent” where he can network for future employees and
volunteers for GLSEN.

One such prospect
is Ganesh Rao, an MBA student at Northwestern
University’s Kellogg School of Business who is also
copresident of the 15-year-old Gay and Lesbian
Management Association. He and his counterpart, Pete
Vujasin, head up an active group; thirty of their
members attended Reaching Out last fall. While Ganesh did
garner a contact at Amazon.com, where he is scheduled
to begin working after graduation this spring, he says
the event’s greatest draw for him is the
camaraderie.

That’s
something Rao and Vujasin replicate in their own
organization. GLMA’s great strides in tolerance
and inclusion on campus led to an invitation to
participate in the Reaching Out conference’s
inaugural LGBT Leadership Summit. Scheduled for April
26, it’s intended to introduce LGBT student
leaders to one another.

The summit,
explains Vujasin via e-mail, is an “opportunity to
increase coordination and communication among business
school LGBT groups and improve the business school
environment for LGBT students.”

Kellogg’s
assistant dean and director of admissions, Beth Flye, says
the school’s atmosphere cultivates tolerant
business leaders by setting a high standard for its
students. “Schools -- higher education in general
-- tends to be more diverse, generally speaking,”
says Flye, who also serves as adviser to GLMA.
“But I will tell you that there are schools,
just like there are companies out there, that are model
organizations. In my opinion, Kellogg is the model
business school in that regard.”

As director of
admissions for Kellogg, Flye has the difficult task of
building a class of 1,310 MBA students from thousands of
applicants per year. Students of all stripes,
including LGBT prospects, are integral slices of the
pie.

“We're
trying to build a class,” she says. “Just
imagine a mosaic. Each person we admit is a tile in
the next class. And we're not just putting together an
outstanding class in terms of quality and diversity; we're
also putting together what we hope is going to be a very
stimulating and enriching experience for everyone
coming in. We're trying to mirror how the world really
is by bringing in an interesting, diverse class.”

Colleges are
typically petri dishes of social change and tolerance, but
business schools are unique. Most MBA students come to
business school with a few years of work experience
under their belts, which means many of them have
already been exposed to the corporate world. With their
presence in business school, LGBT students are changing the
landscape of education and, ultimately, corporate
America.

For Evan
Horowitz, Harvard Business School’s LGBT Student
Association copresident, the existence of his group
not only shapes curricula but the prospective
workplace and defies a few stereotypes along the way.

“On
National Coming Out Day we had hundreds of students wearing
rainbow ribbons and stickers,” he says.
“You always assume that a guy who has been in
the Army for 10 years is going to be homophobic. But
he’s wearing a rainbow sticker all day.”

Tags: Business

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