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 11 2008 11:00 PM ET

In a 2002 study
by Stanford MBA alum Jason Larber, of the top 21 American
business schools, 86% had an LGBT group, compared to 50% in
1995. What’s more, all of the top schools had
an antidiscrimination policy that covered sexual
orientation. Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton tied for the
most tolerant.

By being out and
active to fellow MBA candidates, LGBT students can make
a lasting mark. A heterosexual student who graduates with
gay cohorts will be more likely to accept tolerance in
the workplace, if not expect it.

Richardson
recalls a social event that a large group of international
students attended. He decided to go with his boyfriend, and
the two were the only openly gay people there.
“The next day my friend came up to me and said,
‘Thanks so much for bringing your boyfriend. That was
the first time I ever interacted with gay
people.’ He said, ‘Growing up in Korea
and the companies I worked for, no one was ever out,’
“ remembers Richardson. “He wanted to
ask me how Alberto was doing, but he didn't know what
to call him -- my partner, my boyfriend, or my
spouse.”

In response to
that experience, Berkeley’s q@Haas -- the business
school’s LGBT group -- hosted an event the following
semester to answer those questions, targeted
specifically to international students. Says
Richardson, “There are still people who come to
business school who don't know about gay issues, or
gay rights, or even what words to use.”

At Harvard,
Horowitz and the LGBT Student Association are working with
faculty to integrate more case studies, adding LGBT
workplace affairs to racial, gender, and religious
issues. In fact, Jennings says, Harvard instruction
includes a case study about GLSEN, arranged by two board
members who are Wharton and Harvard professors.

Doing Well by Doing Good

After graduation,
when LGBT students enter the work world, their methods
and priorities may be very different from the old
“greed is good” stereotype. Shane
Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a
national organization for LGBT campus leaders, says
companies benefit from employing young gay workers
because of their innate traits as well as their
acquired skill sets.

“LGBT
advocates throughout their lives have had to be persistent
and patient with what they were trying to accomplish
-- whether that be trying to get a policy passed
through their college or university, or starting a gay
student alliance at their school. Many of our LGBT youth
today as employees have those skills and qualities,”
he says. “I think those pay off, and they're
highly sought qualities to have in workers.”

While many choose
to apply their professional degree to finance, banking,
consulting, and other business avenues, others use their
leverage to do pro bono work. Rich Carolson works at
the Monitor Group, a Boston-area consulting company
that collaborates closely with GLSEN, helping the
organization spread the message of tolerance in a way that
the average person can understand and empathize with.
Jennings estimated that Monitor’s donations to
GLSEN would probably reach into the millions. The
President’s Council on Service and Civic
Participation, created by the Bush administration,
honored Monitor in February for its pro bono work over
the last decade.

Alex Goldsmith,
an MBA candidate at the University of Michigan, points to
a high level of gay and lesbian participation in activism
and charity work. “As a community we're focused
on creativity and philanthropy -- if you look at us as
a group, the rates are very high. It’s something for
us to be proud of,” he says. “Something
that comes across in corporate America is doing more
nonprofit projects and philanthropy.”

According to
Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues, 2005 was the first year
that the top 10 LGBT grant makers awarded $1 million or more
to gay issues, and the number of grants for LGBT
groups shot up 63% between 2002 and 2005.

Jennings
describes the help that GLSEN and other groups receive as
“a fantastic gift. It represents an important
maturing in our movement.”

Business school
prepares each MBA candidate to become a power player. And
by bringing their issues to the forefront, gay MBAs help the
LGBT movement to be a bigger power player as well.
“It’s not that they end up working
full-time in the movement,” says Jennings,
“but they end up leveraging their skills,
really, as volunteers and consultants to
organizations. The same skills would cost us millions of
dollars.”

Tags: Business

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