Business School Diversity Comes in Many Colors

This post originally appeared on the U.S. News–Strictly Business blog.

Business schools strive for diversity in many forms, whether that means admitting record numbers of women, students of color, or those from the military and other non-traditional backgrounds. In addition to expanding the ethnic diversity of their cohorts, the nation’s top M.B.A. programs also seek to shake off any vestiges of prejudice and discrimination and provide a welcoming environment for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

But how can applicants determine which schools rank as gay-friendly? Campus Pride, the leading national nonprofit organization working to create a safer environment for LGBT students, has created a Campus Climate Index that takes an in-depth look at LGBT-friendly policies, programs, and practices.

In August 2011, Campus Pride updated its unique index and revealed 33 schools””nearly double the number from last year””that received the highest ratings available for institutions of higher education. These schools excelled in eight LGBT-focused areas: policy inclusion, support and institutional commitment, academic life, student life, housing, campus safety, counseling and health, and recruitment and retention efforts.

Five-star ratings went to several schools noted for their elite M.B.A. programs, including Stanford University, University of Michigan, University of California””Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, Emory University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Southern California, and University of California””Los Angeles.

Student clubs and organizations like Ross Out for Business, the Tuck Gay/Straight Alliance, and Wharton Out 4Biz strive to foster a supportive atmosphere, provide social opportunities, and offer a network for students, alumni, staff, and faculty. The groups also provide opportunities for students to explore the roles and contributions of gays and lesbians in the business community. To further this message of inclusion, the Stanford Graduate School of Business posted a video to the M.B.A. admissions blog recently as part of the It Gets Better Project, which helps spread a message of hope to LGBT youth.

In order to connect with employers keen on hiring from a diverse applicant pool, the nonprofit organization Reaching Out MBA promotes the education, visibility, and networking capabilities of LGBT graduate business school students primarily through an annual conference. The theme for the Dallas 2011 conference, coming up in October, is “Looking Back, Stepping Forward” and will address the current and future challenges of LGBT business leaders and their allies.

As an M.B.A. admissions consultant, I admit sexuality is not a topic often addressed within the b-school application. Nevertheless, I urged one gay client to consider weaving that personal information into his essays as a way to distinguish himself from his peers. Initially taken aback by what he thought could be regarded as a “diversity gimmick,” I helped him see that the process of coming out was integral to his identity, was a major theme in his life, and had shaped him in many ways””all very strong arguments for including that information in his essays.

My client ended up adapting one essay per school to his sexuality. He discussed his journey of self-discovery and the process of self-acceptance, and then wrote about telling family and friends, their reactions, and how that had impacted him. The mechanics of his story may have been similar to others, but the way it shaped his outlook, and his involvement in mentoring activities, was personal. Ultimately, this applicant was admitted to Columbia University and Harvard University. While we’ll never know for sure whether it was because he included this element in his applications, we both agreed that the application he submitted had revealed a more authentic picture of himself.

According to the Campus Pride 2010 report summary on the state of higher education for LGBT students, it’s obvious some schools are more open and accepting than others. Fernando Gonzalez of the 2012 M.B.A. class at University of Texas””Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tells QS TopMBA that while his school has been accepting of his sexuality, LGBT M.B.A. applicants should do their research before applying to any school.

“I feel that different schools have different levels of support for LGBT students…different programs I’ve been exposed to have dramatically different LGBT communities in size and community involvement,” Gonzalez explains. “As a result, students at some of these programs feel a great deal of support from their LGBT communities and schools at large.”

Richard Battle-Baxter, a b-school blogger I often feature on my own company blog, has a great post on being a gay business school applicant. Having an LGBT presence on campus says a lot about the school itself and the students, he writes. “While I can bond with anyone, it’s just nice to have some people you can turn to, talk to, or just give a glance to and they understand what you’re thinking and have been through what you’ve been through.”

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