October 4, 2004

Johnson Hosts LGBT Business Conference

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The Johnson Graduate School of Management hosted a conference for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals interested in pursuing careers in business this past weekend in Sage Hall.

The event, which was the first of its kind, was called the Out for Undergraduate Business Conference. Students from 15 institutions around the country were invited to attend. Mark Mitchell JGSM ’05 and Justine Suh JGSM ’05, both Roy H. Park Fellows, co-founded and organized the event. Their fellowship entitles them to free tuition and a stipend and includes a Park Leadership Service Project component, which gave rise to the idea for this conference.

“It was important to me when I was accepting the Park Fellowship and thinking about a project that it was something that I would care about and that would also fit in with the goals of the Park program,” Mitchell explained. “I was able to do this by thinking of a conference that would serve as a pipeline for gay undergraduate students into investment banking and management consulting, and then subsequently into the Johnson School.”

Approximately 65 LGBT students from top institutions and 20 LGBT professionals attended, in addition to five special guests representing national LGBT organizations and causes. The program had several objectives.

“There are modules designed to prepare the undergraduate students to do extremely well in interviews for banking and consulting, helping them understand what those jobs are like, and what the basic professional information is that they need to know,” Mitchell said.

“There is also a focus on topics particularly relevant to gay people interested in this field. Dealing with coming out at work, dealing with diversity networks and how you can use them to position yourself for success.”

Mitchell also described a third component of the conference, which involved more general gay community-oriented material, such as a documentary called Gay Pioneers, featuring LGBT civil rights demonstrations from several decades ago.

“[We showed the film to] frame this diversity recruiting conference as part of a larger political movement,” he said, explaining the film’s relevance to the event. Mitchell and Suh were able to secure over $40,000 in corporate sponsorship. Sponsors and attendees included McKinsey & Company, Citigroup, Monitor Group, Credit Suisse First Boston, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and Vault.

Undergraduates attended for a combination of personal and career-related reasons.

“I feel that overall there really isn’t a very great voice for the LGBT community, especially when it comes to the interest of business,” said David Minjares, a junior at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s of extreme utility.”

Other students came in order to learn more about the fields of consulting and investment banking.

“There was a tremendous sense of support and encouragement at the conference which would have been beneficial to anyone regardless of their professional aspirations,” said Ari Bieler, a senior biology major at Penn. Bieler said that he was considering medical school, but that this conference has prompted him to consider other possible career paths.

Minjares, who was especially interested in the consulting aspect of the program, said that the speakers who discussed coming out in the workplace provided valuable information.

“I worked with a company where I wasn’t out last summer, and I didn’t understand what the ground rules were for that,” he said. “When I came to this conference, [I learned] that apparently the amount of energy that you use to keep yourself in the closet is very high, and it detracts from your ability to work.” Mitchell expressed hopes that the conference would continue, perhaps at other institutions, on an annual basis; attendees shared this wish.

“Everyone involved hopes desperately that the Johnson School or some other entity will extend its aegis to ensure that the conference is held annually,” Bieler said.

The event also provided an opportunity for undergraduates from other institutions to experience life at Cornell and in Ithaca.

“I really wish they had a Wegmans in Philadelphia,” Minjares said.

Archived article by Andrew Beckwith
Sun Staff Writer