Boston Reaches Out to LGBT Grad Students with MBA Conference
The 15th Annual Reaching Out Conference for Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Business Graduate students was held last weekend, October 18-20, at the Seaport Hotel World Trade Center in Boston. The largest conference of its kind, it welcomed more than 1,000 students, business professionals and recruiters who took part in the three-day foray into professional and personal networking and development. The theme for this year's LGBT MBA Conference, "Together, Building Community" is one that resonated with the Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) organization.
"Each conference has its own theme, and every one has a different vibe. But most themes ultimately come down to something that's really important to the organization which is connections," said ROMBA Treasurer Matt Kidd.
"Connections between students and employers, connections between students and themselves, it's all about bringing this community together. That's really what this organization is about at heart."
And what a community to be connected with.
The place was dripping with talent. And not just from some of the best and brightest MBA students and alumni from across the country and around the world. The keynote speaker was Dan Savage, founder of the "It Gets Better" Campaign and "Savage Love." Other speakers included Brian Sims, first openly LGBT state legislator for the state of Pennsylvania, Brian Elliot, founder of Friendfactor and principal at Elliot Strategy Partners, and Julie Goodridge, CEO and founder of Northstar Asset Management Inc., and plaintiff (and winner) of the landmark Massachusetts case that resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage.
More than 30 breakout sessions and workshops focused on everything from entrepreneurship to investment banking to community engagement and LGBTQ marketing. Heading these panels were some interesting and seriously impressive individuals, including those from the Walt Disney Company, Adidas, Time Inc., Goldman Sachs, Citi Group, Bain & Company and Google.
"You don’t get a Bain Capital and a Booz & Co. and top PE firms," said Liz O’Keefe, an attorney, LGBT advocate and ROMBA Conference attendee. "So to have all of those people at one time and sitting down with you in a group of six people in breakout sessions; I have yet to experience that in one conference, let alone one session in one conference."
"It’s the cause," she continued, "People are really passionate about it, so it brings out big players."
The ROMBA Conference was founded in 1999 when students at Harvard Business School and Yale Law School saw a need to increase equality, diversity and inclusiveness in the work force, as well as in graduate schools. The first conference had two corporate sponsors and 150 attendees for the one-day event. Fast-forward to 2012, and you’ve got a three-day event with 86 corporate sponsors, including some of the biggest names in the game, and a record-breaking 1,250 attendees.
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
The increased conference attendance is in stride with a growing trend of companies standing up for equality and creating diverse work environments.
"It is one thing to say you have an inclusive environment, but it is another to put your money where your mouth is and publicly support LGBT organizations and actively recruit talent from minority groups," said ROMBA President Kevin Smith.
Theresa Harrison, director of Supplier Diversity for Ernst & Young LLP, said that her group looks to advocacy organizations like the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) for diverse suppliers.
Ryan Tarpley, an executive at the L.A.-based talent and literary Creative Artists Agency said that his company is actively working to let people know they can bring their whole selves to the office.
Paul Pastor, vice president for Strategy and Media Planning for the Disney ABC Television Group, noted that many of the top professionals at Disney are gay and that inclusion is the norm for the conglomerate.
"Our company celebrates diversity. We live it. It’s who we are," said Pastor.
Beyond the overwhelming talent and professionalism present at this event, another thing that sets the ROMBA Conference apart from the rest is the fact that it is 100 percent student-run and led. A team of eight students was selected by the ROMBA Board Of Directors to organize this year’s conference, and they did everything from selecting panelists to securing sponsorship to logistics and marketing.
"These guys are really putting together a half a million dollar start-up," said Kidd, "and they’re doing it while in school, while completing internships."
Antonio Gomez-Lopez, an MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management, was one of the organizers who put this year’s spectacular event together. He and his seven counterparts spent nine months working out every minute detail, to stunning result.
"I was impressed," said Gomez-Lopez. "Things that I didn’t know I was capable of, I can now put to use for a cause that I believe in."
His ultimate goal for this year’s event goes back to that theme of building community.
"My hope is that we become a community, connect, stay in touch and build relationships that outlive the conference," said Gomez-Lopez.
To learn more about the annual conference or about ROMBA, visit www.reachingoutmba.org