As much as Matt Kidd appreciates business schools’ efforts to welcome LGBT students, he says a few schools are kind of missing the point.
As the new executive director of Reaching Out MBA’s, Kidd is responsible for organizing the LGBT nonprofit’s annual three-day conference. “Some schools—and there are a handful of people who are guilty of this—have their career offices telling people, ‘You should go to this conference no matter what,’” he says. “And they’re telling them to go to National Black. They’re telling them to go to [the National Society of Hispanic MBAs], and it’s frankly inappropriate.”
The conference, held every year in October, includes a career fair. But Kidd insists that it’s not just about finding a job. It’s also meant to unite people who don’t normally get to feel like part of the majority. “This is the one time where all of those 600 students from different schools can really meet each other and expand their networks in a meaningful way,” he says.
That component is especially important for LGBT MBAs outside of large metropolitan areas. “If you’re in a smaller school—so let’s say you’re going to Tuck, for example—the town you’re in is not particularly large, and there probably isn’t a large gay or lesbian population there,” he explains. “The difference there is that you really need to focus on your classmates, and if you only have one or two, it’s a pretty small LGBT population.”
The conference gives attendees a rare chance to bond and share their experiences. Even Kidd, who went to school in a city of eight million people, forged a number of important connections. “Some of my closest MBA friends actually are not from NYU Stern,” he says. “They’re from schools like Tufts and Columbia, because I was able to participate in Reaching Out MBA as an active organizer.”
‘A LOT OF SCHOOLS ARE LOOKING FOR LGBT APPLICANTS’
That’s not to say that Kidd thinks business schools haven’t worked to attract more LGBT students. “A lot of schools are really starting to actively look for these candidates,” Kidd says. He gives New York University as an example: as a member of the Class of 2011, Kidd recalls that the class above him had around four LGBT students. “The administration recognized, ‘Hey, this is a really underrepresented diversity group,’ and so my class came in, and I think we had 10 or 11 LGBT students,” Kidd says.
So far, NYU has been able to keep that number up. “They target this population, they have a plan, they work with the current LGBT students to help recruit new LGBT MBAs,” Kidd says. “It’s something that they’re very actively involved with, which I think is absolutely fantastic.” Referencing his own coming out experience at an all-boys high school in Memphis, Tennessee, he emphasizes that LGBT students bring grit to the table—and the boardroom, for that matter. “These people really are able to stand up for what they believe in,” Kidd says. “Ultimately, I think it makes them really good business leaders.”
Of course, people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered make up a small section of the population; Kidd acknowledges that non-LGBT students all over the country have helped drive progress at their respective schools. “A lot of how that has happened is through allies who are actively involved with the LGBT population,” he says. “So these are people who are actually part of their schools’ LGBT clubs, even though they themselves might be straight.” He notes that if genuine allies want in on the Reaching Out MBA conference, “that’s awesome and we welcome them. But I want to see more of the actual LGBT students getting involved with our events than we have in the last year or two,” he maintains.
HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL’S FIRST TRANSGENDERED MBA
Keeping LGBT participation up is big, because while business schools have come very far, they still have a long way to go—particularly on the T end. On Oct. 3, The Atlantic published an article on Del, Harvard Business School’s first openly transgendered student. Much of her story is promising: “I don’t feel that being trans at Harvard Business School has held me back in any way,” she told The Atlantic.
Nevertheless, her experience hasn’t been spotless. One of Harvard’s most popular events is an annual party based on “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” the first film to portray a trans woman in a positive light, according to Del. But far from being a celebration of diversity, the Priscilla Ball “bastardizes something that is a symbol of progress within the trans community,” Del said. “To make it a joke, over and over and over again, every year, and to keep it this year when I am here among them, pleading with them not to go through with it, is so painful.”
What does Kidd think of the whole thing? “In HBS’s case, I hope they consulted the student beforehand,” he says gravely. But he doesn’t say whether he’d outright cancel the ball. Cross-dressing brings up a number of thorny issues, some of which Kidd encountered at NYU. OutClass, the school’s LGBT MBA club, was planning to hold an event that included “kind of drag or cross-dressing, whatever you want to call it.” “A really big debate came up,” he says. “Is this offensive to the transgendered population? Is it too stereotypical of gay men? Does it create a bad stereotype? At the end of the day, I think we did end up moving forward with that, but it’s a really tough question because even within the LGBT population, there are certain segments that don’t always see eye-to-eye.” In other words, the LGBT community isn’t a monolith. “You just need to understand everyone’s viewpoint, because you can never make assumptions based on any kind of profile,” he says. “I think it’s just not fair to anyone.”
Kidd has a lot to navigate in his new role as executive director, especially since he’s the first staff member Reaching Out MBA has ever had. But he’s thinking long-term, focusing on a goal that’s unlikely to alienate anyone the organization serves. “I would love for somebody who is Reaching Out MBA Class of 2013—so somebody whose first conference was this year—to be the CEO of a fortune 10 company years down the line, and to be able to say, ‘This person came in here and is able to do that,’” he says. “To have somebody who’s openly gay leading a company like that would be absolutely fantastic.”