When Kenneth Sormani joined Lehman Brothers as an analyst in 1982, he was often guarded when he talked to co-workers about his personal life. That's because he didn't want to disclose that he was gay. "When I started...most people weren't really 'out' on Wall Street," he says. However, 22 years have gone by, and Sormani now talks openly about his weekends and personal life at conferences and work. A senior vice-president of fixed income, Sormani is also one of about 80 New York members of the two-year-old Lehman Brothers Gay and Lesbian Network.
Times have changed -- for the better -- for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) professionals. The 90s introduced improved diversity policies at many corporations, allowing gay employees to be more open about their sexual orientation. Corporate America has welcomed several openly gay leaders, including E*trade's (ET) former president, Kathy Levinson, and Allan Gilmour, Ford's (F) vice-chair.
BENEFITS ALL AROUND. Taking a cue from the business world and, increasingly, from students, lifestyle policies at B-schools are starting to change, too. Gay professionals are now more assertive at B-schools, encouraging schools to take their diversity needs more seriously. GLBT clubs have a more visible presence on more campuses, and members urge schools to reach out to more gay MBA hopefuls. There's better access to networking with gay MBAs at other schools, and some schools help fund trips to national gay conferences. In the classroom, students are also pressing for more business case studies to feature prominent gay issues, like whether a major network can air a talk show hosted by someone who's against gay rights.
A workplace's GLBT sensitivity can be an edge in the talent-recruitment game, too. Dozens of companies now host recruiting dinners for gay MBAs to highlight their gay-friendly policies. IBM (IBM) has a GLBT-employee network with 1,200 active members worldwide and uses these recruiting tactics to show MBAs that the company is a safe environment, "so they can maximize their personal productivity," says Brad Salavich, the outfit's GLBT program manager and a graduate of Lakehead University B-school in Ontario.
The benefits don't just flow in one direction, either. Corporations are aware of the gay community's growing buying power. GLBT Americans had an estimated buying power of $485 billion in 2003, according to a report by Witeck-Combs Communications and MarketResearch.com. IBM makes an effort to sell its products and services to GLBT-owned businesses and also provides opportunities for such entrepreneurs to supply goods to IBM.
PRODDED INTO ACTION. B-schools are among the outfits vying for gay dollars and talent and are trying to make their programs more gay-friendly. "It's absolutely a better time to be gay at business school," says Barak Ben-Gal, 28, a recent grad of Stanford Graduate School of Business in Palo Alto, Calif., and the former co-president of Out4Biz, the school's gay and lesbian club.
And rather like midterm exams, B-schools can receive a lousy grade in gay-friendliness ratings and be prodded into action. Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management in Ithaca, N.Y., was hit with a D in a semiregular rating on gay-friendliness by Aplomb Consulting, which conducted its most recent survey on U.S. B-schools in 2003. Since then, the school has adopted policies such as adding gay and lesbian students to its Women and Minorities office and profiling gay students in marketing materials.
Cornell's equal opportunity clause will also add a line on gay and lesbian students. GLBT students are pleased with the efforts, saying the B-school had lacked "visible codes [that] it's O.K. to be out and gay," says first-year Blake Howard, president of the school's newly-formed Out for Business club.
CHECKING OUT CLUBS. After the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School in Chapel Hill [N.C.] flunked the Aplomb measure, the few openly gay and lesbian students spoke to administration officials. Starting in the fall, applicants to Kenan-Flagler will now receive a marketing CD-ROM featuring a gay student leader. Admissions officers can refer to a new one-page statement when asked about the school's gay and lesbian club, activities, and local gay community. Without these materials, gay-friendliness "doesn't come across on paper," says Peter Gallo, a member of the Class of 2005 and the school's two-year-old GLBT Assn.
Not all schools get red marks, and the Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Evanston, Ill., aced Aplomb's test. Saqib Nadeem, a second-year at Kellogg and the school's next Graduate Management Assn. president, says to be considered gay-friendly, MBAs should feel comfortable saying, "This is what I did last weekend with my partner."
Generally, the litmus test for most students is an active GLBT club at the B-school. "Some clubs were established by an ambitious group of gay and lesbian MBAs, but in subsequent years, there might not be anyone to carry that on," says Adam Welch, a recent graduate of Michigan Business School. Welch recommends applicants contact current GLBT students to find out whether the school's club is active. The quicker and more detailed the response, the better, he says.
JOB-HUNTING RISKS. Bigger schools in metropolitan cities usually have strongest gay and lesbian networks. At New York University's Stern School of Business, which has more than 2,500 MBA students, the GLBT club boasts 180 members, including full- and part-time MBAs and alums. Columbia Business School's Cluster Q has 34 members. At University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, the school's q@Haas club has about 25 to 30 members, making it one of the largest minority groups on campus.
Big city schools can also draw more gay professors to their campuses. At London Business School, Jonathan Chang, co-president of the Gay and Lesbian Network, says he chose LBS because some subjects are taught by openly gay faculty members.
Whether to be out -- or not -- during the job-hunting process ranks among the top issues for gay MBAs. Despite companies' recent strides, some students question if it's smart to mention that they participate in a gay club or other affiliations with the gay community. They wonder if all pockets of Wall Street -- the male-dominated sales and trading areas, for instance -- are equally gay-friendly.
SAME SCREENING PROCESS. Unfortunately, no clear-cut answer exists. Tracy Hobson, global diversity manager for Credit Suisse First Boston, says "if you've done something that affects your resume -- perhaps you organized a huge event for gay and lesbians -- highlight it. If it's going to highlight your skills as an investment banker, don't be afraid to mention it," she says. Students caution that MBAs should always check that a company's nondiscrimination policy mentions gay and lesbian rights.
When in doubt, companies say gay MBAs should tap into corporate gay and lesbian affinity groups, or attend a recruiting event geared toward their community. Brian Rolfes, director of professional development for McKinsey & Company in Canada and a founding member of Gays and Lesbians at McKinsey, or GLAM, say his firm's recruiting events for minority communities helps MBAs learn more about McKinsey's gay-friendly policies.
Like some other big firms, Lehman Brothers now takes its gay and lesbian network to B-school campuses to "encourage people to feel comfortable about coming to Lehman Brothers," Sormani says. Of course, "we help get [those students] in the door, but ultimately they go through the same [screening] process that any MBA goes through to get a job."
SPEAKING FREELY. As president of the Columbia Business School student government, Ramon Vinluan, who is gay, addressed about 2,000 people during a recognition ceremony for graduates in May. He reminded his classmates that as they turn profits, they should remember people who need a lift. Then he asked for their help. "I'm afraid of waking up one morning to find out that Congress has approved an amendment to prevent me from marrying my partner, Bob."
Classmates approached Vinluan afterward to say they found his speech meaningful. He says being able to speak honestly at the ceremony was the "ultimate payoff" for choosing Columbia, where being gay isn't considered a problem. And at other B-schools, ongoing diversity efforts will hopefully help give GLBT students a more fulfilling B-school experience, where for so many others, the greatest reward is the ability to be themselves.
Gay and Lesbian Networks, by Campus
GLIB (Gays and Lesbians in Business) Columbia
New York, N.Y.
Out for Business
Gay, Lesbian and
Straight Alliance (GLSA)
Goizueta Gay and Lesbian
GUPride (for entire university) Harvard
Gay & Lesbian Student
Jouy en Josas, France
GLBT Student Support
Fontainebleau Cedex France,
London Business School Gay and Lesbian
College Park, Md.
Lambda Coalition (for all grad students at U Maryland) Michigan
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Open for Business
East Lansing, Mich.
Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Faculty Staff and Graduate Student
Association) (for all graduate students)
GLMA (Gay & Lesbian Management Association) Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Ind.
New York, N.Y.
The Lesbian and Gay Business Association
Queer Student Union (for entire university) Queens University
Education on Queer Issues Project) (for the entire
Rotterdam School of
Straight Alliance Club
UC Berkeley (Haas)
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Business
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allies (GLBTA)
Gay and Lesbian Association Vanderbilt (Owen)
Lesbians & Friends at Darden
St. Louis, Mo.
Alliance (for entire university)
New Haven, Conn.
Q+ Gay/Straight Alliance
LGBT Club (Lesbian Gay
Bisexual Transgender Club)
By Mica Schneider
Edited by Suzanne Robitaille