“What type of support do we have for LGBTQ+ students at the MBA level?”
It’s amazing what a single question can do to spark change.
Despite being the outgoing president for Ivey’s MBA 2018 class, I had never been asked that question until then. To be honest, I had no idea what the answer was.
A Stark Moment of Realization
From a diversity and inclusion perspective, our class had primarily focused on building up women in leadership this past year, especially given the wave of momentum from the #MeToo movement. As a result, when that question hit me, I realized that our class had no self-identified LGBTQ+ students, which explained why the topic had never been brought up previously.
As the incoming class of 2019 rolled in, two students had self-identified (1.7% of the student population) and wanted to know what sort of support they would have from the school.
A sense of urgency rolled upon me. The truth was, we didn’t have a lot going on.
Foundationally, there was room for growth.
Utilizing Existing Resources
The spark of change started at our Ivey MBA Club Meet+Mingle event, where incoming students could ask current club leaders about events, activities and initiatives. Because the MBA Association didn’t have one, we invited the undergrad Ivey PRIDE club.
Despite a gap at the MBA level, Ivey’s undergrad business program has an extremely strong and active LGBTQ+ and Ally community. For instance, the Ivey Pride Network established an LGBTQ+ resume database for recruiters, which has provided our undergrad LGBTQ+ students with better visibility to employers. Therefore, it made sense for us to focus on utilizing existing resources.
Next, the Program Office sent me to the 2018 Reaching Out LGBTQ+ MBA Club Leadership Summit at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Founded in 1999 out of Boston, Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) has focused on educating, inspiring and connecting the student and alumni LGBTQ+ MBA & graduate communities in an on-going effort to create the next generation of out business leaders.
I learned that ROMBA primarily provides year-round programming from Sao Paolo to Shanghai for the LGBTQ+ community. For example, 90+ companies supported over 1800 LGBTQ+ students last year at the 2017 Reaching Out conference for internship placements.
With over 40 global MBA programs represented from HBS to LBS, the ROMBA Leadership Summit was the perfect platform for me soak up ideas on how to build an Out and Allied community from scratch.
Lessons From Other B-Schools
That Saturday morning, I nervously walked into the welcome meeting, fully expecting to be alone – a sinking raft in a harbour of established communities. To give you a sense of how established these communities were, Berkeley-Haas and Chicago-Booth both have over 400 members in their PRIDE clubs, and London Business School’s Out in Business club has over 900 members. In contrast, because we have a 1-year program, our entire class consisted of 115 people.
However, as discussions continued throughout the day, the striking reality is that the average b-school’s student population has anywhere between 3-4% self-identifying students.
I was shocked – Ivey was not alone.
That weekend, with my notepad out and my pen screaming to capture everything, I wrote as fast as I could and asked as many questions as possible. Everything I learned was nothing short of practical and actionable.
For instance, the Wharton School’s Out4Business club has partnered with admissions to include a checkbox that asks applicants whether they’re interested in receiving information from its LGBTQ+ club on campus. This provides not only its students, but also its allies with the option to get involved right from the start. Upon acceptance, newly-admitted students receive a personal call from Out4Business that congratulates them and lets them know that they have support if and when they need it.