The job market is tough these days—so tough, in fact, that some business schools have been encouraging heterosexual students to attend career fairs for lesbian, gay, and bisexual students.
Matt Kidd, executive director of Reaching Out MBA, said only one of the 15 students from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business who attended the conference in New Orleans last year was openly gay. The event is described as the world’s largest conference of LGBT business students, and it includes a job-recruitment fair. That Rice student “was forced to go around introducing himself as ‘the actual gay guy’ so he didn’t get round-filed with the rest of the school’s students,” Kidd says. Jeff Falk, Rice’s associate director of national media relations, says the school tells students “to learn about the organizations and their missions before they decide to attend.”
The College of William & Mary’s Mason School of Business told its students last year to skip the rest of the conference and just attend the career fair, according to Kidd. “It’s largely done by schools who can’t get companies on their campus,” he says.
While many school officials understand Kidd’s complaint about the number of non-LGBT students at the event, some don’t see the concern. “There are recruiters there who are happy to talk to anyone that’s talented,” says Chequeta Allen, executive director of the career management center at William & Mary’s business school. “The idea of those groups is to ensure inclusiveness, not to say, ‘We only want LGBT people.’”
In a presentation at the Graduate Management Admission Council’s annual conference last month, Kidd told schools that the trend becomes offensive to LGBT students in attendance because they’ve heard straight students say things like: “Dude, I’m not gay” or “There needs to be less focus on gay stuff at this event.”
As a result, Reaching Out MBA will now restrict how students can sign up for the conference. Students will be asked to write about why they want to attend or to sign up through their campus LGBT student groups, which he says will vet conference prospects.
Ten percent of the more than 1,100 registered attendees at last year’s Reaching Out MBA conference identified as straight. Kidd emphasizes that the conference isn’t trying to shut out “active allies”—straight students who show a strong interest in the LGBT community. Many top B-schools make a point of building bridges between straight and LGBT students. Elite schools, including Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Columbia Business School, have participated in a national competition over the last two years to demonstrate their focus on such concerns.
Kidd estimates that openly LGBT students make up about 3 percent to 4 percent of the population at top business schools. Students at large, Southern MBA programs such as University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business, Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School reported at last year’s conference that just 1 percent of students in their class years were openly LGBT.
Conferences aimed at black, Asian, and Hispanic students have also seen more students attend who are outside their target demographic, says Manny Gonzalez, chief executive officer of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs. About 37 percent of students who attended the group’s annual conference for graduate business students last year were non-Hispanic.
Gonzalez believes minority students can benefit from the crossover. “We live in a diverse world, so whether you go to a Fortune 500 company or a midsize business, you’ll be engaged in a diverse workforce,” he says. “The more exposure as a student you have in these communities, the more you learn.”