Marketing efforts to attract lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender MBA applicants are not cut-and-dried. While business schools can easily target potential candidates by ethnicity , asking applicants to identify themselves based on sexual orientation is not a standard demographic question.
Nevertheless, LGBT applicants can benefit greatly from researching their target schools' outreach efforts, campus clubs and inclusiveness toward their LGBT community as an important factor when selecting potential schools.
Many gay and lesbian applicants wonder if they should openly address their sexual orientation as they begin the MBA admissions process. The LGBT Student Association at Harvard Business School, for one, urges applicants to be "out" in their MBA application and notes that the admissions office is not only very gay friendly but that it's excited to increase the LGBT presence at the business school.
The admissions officers want to learn about you as a person, beyond your GPA and GMAT scores. "It is perfectly appropriate -- and, again, probably advisable -- for essays to reflect who you are as a whole person, including your sexuality and gender identity/expression, if you choose to do so," the student group explains.
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I once worked with a client, "David," who on the surface had a rock-solid background. He had followed an extremely traditional progression from Ivy League undergrad to banking to business school, but something in his story lacked depth.
David's essays didn't provide a lot of detail as to why he had made certain decisions or what had fueled different moments, experiences and reactions. Then, during one phone call, he came out to me. This had been a very personal struggle for him, and at the time not even his parents knew of his sexual orientation.
Our discussion opened up terms of his pressures, decisions and personality. I encouraged him to reveal this side of himself in the applications as it really shed light on who he was. His sexuality didn't become the focus of his essays, but acknowledging it allowed him to speak more openly about his identity and what mattered to him.
He did end up being accepted to Columbia Business School when he reapplied. He hadn't revealed his sexual orientation in the first attempt.
I don't think the fact that he was gay got David in; however, I do believe his willingness to show introspection and be more open about himself in his application helped tremendously.
Although business schools have progressed dramatically of late on LGBT issues, more can be done. In a recent GMAC article exploring outreach efforts to LGBT applicants, columnist Ronald Alsop says that, while schools have increased efforts in marketing to LGBT candidates, they're still a very small minority of MBA programs.
"According to GMAC's 2013 Application Trends Survey, only nine percent of graduate business programs worldwide and only 13 percent in the US reported any special LGBT outreach efforts," Alsop says.
Liz Riley Hargrove, associate dean for admissions at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, notes that the school began hosting an LGBT Weekend in 2011 to show off its gay-friendly culture and dispel any negative perceptions of Southern stuffiness.
"We need more LGBT students so the classroom is representative of the workforce our students will manage," she tells Alsop. "Exposure to different perspectives will affect our students' management and leadership styles."
Bloomberg Businessweek recently polled MBA students from several schools on how diverse they felt their program was. It was interesting to see the comments of one student from Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management, which scores exceptionally well on the Campus Pride Index for its LGBT-friendly policies, programs and practices.
Even so, student Arnab Mukherjee tells Businessweek that as a gay man, he would like to see more LGBT alumni or faculty addressing issues of gender and sexuality in the workplace through academic case studies, guest lecturers or career-related events.
"I don't think these are critiques that would be unique to Cornell Johnson, though, as I have heard exactly the same feedback from friends at other top programs, such as Chicago Booth, HBS, NYU Stern, and Stanford," Mukherjee says.
Fortunately, students don't have to rely solely on the networking opportunities within the LGBT clubs and organizations on campus. At the annual Reaching Out MBA conference and career fair, for both prospective and current MBA students, several hundred LGBT students from across the country can come together and expand their professional networks in a meaningful way.
New York University Stern School of Business alumnus Matt Kidd, the executive director of Reaching Out MBA, tells Poets & Quants that component is especially important for LGBT MBAs outside of large metropolitan areas -- places where there may not be a large gay or lesbian population.
"The difference there is that you really need to focus on your classmates, and if you only have one or two, it's a pretty small LGBT population."
The LGBT population at business schools may be small, but its visibility is growing and the diverse perspectives members of this community can provide to an MBA cohort is not lost on business school admissions committees.