From October 18-21 MBA students from Boston University and from across the country gathered at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center for the 2012 Reaching Out MBA Conference: Together, Building Community.
Externally, ROMBA might have appeared to be your run-of-the mill business school conference. It was well funded and attended by top universities and firms from across the country with an impressive array of heavily subsidized food and beverages. BU’s School of Management showed up with our expected leadership and volunteerism, as multiple Cohort Q (SMG’s LGBT association) members helped organize activities. On Friday, I coordinated the nonprofit breakout session, Brave New World: Charting a Path for Social Impact in the 21st Century. On Saturday, Stacey Sharer (MBA 2014) led a nonprofit consulting case workshop for business students to provide recommendations to a local nonprofit, and the Feld Career Center recruited at the pre-MBA fair. Each morning of the conference, Tim Pennell(MBA 2013) rose early to coordinate sponsored runs.
So, while ROMBA may have looked like your run-of-the-mill conference, ROMBA was actually a much more momentous event than a great line up of recruiters (BCG, McKinsey, Bain) and panels (consulting, marketing, human capital). ROMBA was significant in that it demonstrated the enormous progress our country has made towards equality in the last decade.
How did the conference demonstrate progress? The Reaching Out MBA conference is the annual national gathering of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) graduate business students. Why is this significant? Not only are LGBT employment protections still nonexistent in 29 states, but a decade ago the idea of openly gay senior executives was unheard of. However, Reaching Out is a small part of a groundswell of corporate support for LGBT equality. At a national level, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos contributed $2.5 million to support gay marriage, which was on the ballot in Washington. UPS is among a number of firms defunding Boy Scouts of America for policies that ban gay troop leaders and scouts. As companies put resources behind their commitment to LGBT equality, progress becomes attainable.
Solutions to global challenges like the human rights of the LGBT community will only come if we are able to address them across sectors. And on November 6, as the country experienced a landslide for LGBT equality (marriage passed in three states and the first openly gay congresswoman was elected), I found myself thinking about ROMBA and how firms like Walt Disney Co., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Teach for America, and Unilever are playing an important role in this process. Reaching Out demonstrates and is part of this progress. Cohort Q and members of the SMG community are privileged to see and participate in this history.
Jessica Friesen believes in cross-sector solutions to social change, is a member of BU's MBA Class of 2013, and is enrolled in the PNP program. Born and raised in Southeast Asia, Jessica is Co-President of SMG's LGBT association, Cohort Q.