Many of the European business schools pride themselves on a global and accepting atmosphere. The entering class of 2014 at London Business School (LBS) boasts 411 students from 65 countries. IESE Business School has 56 different countries represented amongst the 280 first-year students. IE Business School calls their full-time MBAs “Global” and “International” MBAs. Diversity and acceptance are tenets at these schools. This also includes acceptance and support of the LGBT community. But as students scatter across the world upon graduation, more than half of LGBT students retreat back into the closet.
Discrimination in employment towards the LGBT community has been banned in Europe since 2000. Western Europe has some of the most progressive laws towards inclusion. Still, there is a taboo feeling towards business leaders identifying as LGBT—especially in global companies doing business in less accepting countries that are largely found in Africa and the Middle East. In fact, 61% of LGBT students decide to go back into the closet after entering the workforce.
The Out in Business (OiB) Club at the LBS has been working to create a network of professionals and community within business schools and the business environment that foster a more accepting and inclusive atmosphere for LGBT students and professionals. The OiB Club has more than 300 members and is one of the most active and strongest clubs on the LBS campus. One of the ways they have been working to influence business culture is by hosting the EurOUT Conference, which finished its fourth installment on November 7-9.
FORMER BP CEO, LORD BROWNE HEADLINES CONFERENCE
The conference was originally inspired by the Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) conference held annually in the United States. This year, EurOUT saw a record-setting 150 students and professionals in attendance. What’s more, a statement of inclusion was made with representation from Bain, McKinsey, Microsoft, and Boston Consulting Group as well as an opening speech from LBS Dean Sir Andrew Likierman.
“The problem is how do we encourage people to be more authentic and themselves at work,” says Randall Peterson, a professor at LBS. “The two big issues are employees feeling comfortable in companies that do business in parts of the world that are hostile to gay rights and fostering a community where people making it to senior leadership levels feel they can do it as their true selves.”
Fittingly, the keynote speaker was former CEO of BP, Lord Browne, who’s coming out created a media firestorm. Panel discussions revolved around the global business LGBT status and getting LGBT business leaders into the C-Suite.
“There is a great importance of having a strong and clear culture with strong and clear values in each company,” Peterson says. “Business schools have a strong community and students feel they can come out and be themselves. This should continue into the workforce.”
BEING TRUE TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS
But according to Ty Zamkow, co-president of the OiB Club, there is a responsibility that falls upon the students when they enter the working world. That is, they should be strong within themselves and confident and open with who they are.
“The take home message from Lord Browne was to not make the same mistakes he made,” Zamkow says. “People can usually tell something is off when you are not being authentic in your career. You create a second self, and the longer you wait to come out to your colleagues, the harder it gets.”
Similarly, Zamkow says the companies should also have a strong identity and be strong in what they stand for and the culture they have. According to Zamkow, this should come from direct communication of inclusion from the C-Suite. Additionally, companies can make a statement by having similar benefits given to partners and families as what are given to heterosexual spouses and families.
McKINSEY SETS INCLUSION PRECEDENT
Zamkow said many companies and countries have already made steps towards an inclusive culture and have an avant-garde attitude towards LGBT employees.
“Consulting, finance, and tech companies have traditionally been progressive towards the LGBT community,” says an active member of OiB. “McKinsey is a great example and has had a very active network stemming from the senior level and the GLAM program. McKinsey, BCG, and others come back to our conference every year because they know how important it is to promote the LGBT networks.”
The conference culminated with closing remarks from Zamkow and fellow co-president, Thomas Artoos. Other keynote speakers at the conference were Liz Bingham of Talent, Nicholas Goad of Boston Consulting Group, and Antonio Simoes of HSBC UK. The conference kicked-off with a daylong career fair.
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