On the surface, Devon Dickau has a background that strays wildly far from the stereotypical MBA student. He has a bachelor’s degree in American literature and culture. He’s got a master’s in education. He’s mainly worked as an advocate and community organizer in the nonprofit and entertainment sectors. And he’s gay.
According to statistics provided by Reaching Out MBA, the leading organization for LGBTQ MBA students and their allies, about 3 percent of the MBA population identify as out LGBTQ students.
Still, on another surface level, Dickau’s everything a stereotypical MBA student is “supposed” to be. First, he’s incredibly intelligent. His graduated magna cum laude from UCLA with a 3.82 grade point average. He picked up his master’s in education from Harvard University where he maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA while serving as class marshal. And he scored an impressive 740 on the GMAT, which put him in the top 3% of all test takers.
Additionally, Dickau’s a natural leader and wants to make a positive impact on the world. So it makes sense that it has been his dedicated modus operandi to change perceptions of what it’s like to be gay and a business leader from the get-go of his MBA education at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.
A PIVOTAL EXPERIENCE IN TANZANIA
The tone for Dickau, 29, was set during the three-week orientation when each student is required to give a 60-second introduction to each other. Dickau used the opportunity to come out. The response was an outpouring of support and a family-like embrace, a vastly different experience from the first time Dickau announced to the world that he was gay.
It was 2007 and Dickau had just graduated from college. He came out to friends and family and soon after boarded a flight to Tanzania to work as an HIV and AIDS educator and activist. “There wasn’t really any violence towards gays at that time, they really just didn’t acknowledge it,” recalls Dickau. “I wasn’t able to bring that part of me to the job. I was personally, emotionally and mentally exhausted because I was not able to share that portion of my life with anyone there. It was a pretty pivotal moment for me.”
It was pivotal because he realized he had a deep passion for education and community activism. And so the desire to connect entertainment with social activism to impact underserved populations perpetuated. He entered ultimately Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and worked in the Center for Public Interest Careers.
THE CORPORATE SKILL SET VOID
After finishing his degree at Harvard, he jumped back into social activism, working as a social impact consultant for ProSocial and a social impact fellow at Propper Daley. It was during his time at ProSocial when he realized something was still missing.
“My lack in skill set was corporate understanding,” Dickau explains. “No one I worked with had MBAs or worked in the corporate sector but we were trying to work in a corporate setting. We were passionate people but we couldn’t walk the walk or talk the talk.”
Dickau’s clients had included documentary filmmakers, celebrities and athletes. He did social media for the acclaimed documentary, Bully. He got to meet Lady Gaga. But he wanted to be able to talk impact and business. So he decided that the MBA degree would help him do that. Yet, he would pursue business school with some hesitancy.
“First, I was the non-profit guy and thought I would be going into classes with all of these bankers and would be the weird kid,” Dickau says. “There was that social impact side that was weird and different to me but also I was hesitant for being a gay student. Most surveys show 7 to 10 percent of millennials are gay and I knew only about 3 percent at business schools are out. As an applicant I was thinking, I am not going to belong, and business school is all about networking and how will I network if I don’t belong.”
FINDING A SCHOOL WHERE HE WASN’T THE ‘WEIRD KID’
But Dickau knew what he wanted and what needed to happen to get there. So he proceeded through the application process. Dickau was recently engaged and his fiancé worked in Los Angeles. Consequently, he looked at all California schools with Stanford’s GSB, Berkeley’s Haas and UCLA’s Anderson all getting serious consideration. It was the inclusive culture at Anderson that won Dickau over and relieved his stress of being the “weird kid.”
“The inclusiveness played a big role,” Dickau recalls. “When I was applying I had a gay friend who was a first year at Anderson and he loved it. I also reached out to an admissions officer who is a gay man and loves talking to gay prospective students about the culture at Anderson. I knew I would have a connection who was an ally and understood my story right away. Months before my application was due, there was a student interest event for the LGBTQ community and I attended it. It was very meaningful to me.”