Managing a Gay Identity During the Recruiting Process

by | March 10, 2009

Section Q is a weekly column prepared by students at the Harvard Business School
Author: IMTIYAZ HUSSEIN

The limos line up in front of Ikon Express. Your voicemail is full of friendly voices inviting you to yet another dinner at Rialto or The Harvest Restaurant.Your sectionmates start wearing Giorgio and Boss instead of Gap and Banana to class. Yes, indeedy, it's open (uh - I mean recruiting) season at the Harvard Business School. A time-honored rite of passage at this august institution; a streamlined process whereby aspiring masters-of-the-universe (MOTUs) convince the reigning MOTUs to add them to the MOTU pipeline.

In addition to the myriad of things every aspiring MOTU (hereinafter referred to as an AMOTU) worries about during this induction process (e.g., bad hair days, matching socks, food stuck between teeth, the appropriate number of seconds to wait before beginning one's response during case interviews I kid you not on this last one), the gay/lesbian aspiring MOTU (a.k.a. the GLAMOTU) faces one additional issue - how he/she will handle the "gay thing."

Of course, there exists a range of options, from non-disclosure through to full disclosure, and the ultimate decision to be out, or not, during recruiting is a personal one. Not all GLAMOTUs are the same. As we all know, some GLAMOTUs choose to be very "out" at HBS while others more tightly manage their gay identity. This article is not meant to be prescriptive, but rather to share thoughts and a perspective from someone who's been there/done that.

Let me start with my personal experience. I was not explicitly out on my resumeduring first year recruiting. In fact, I had scrubbed my resume clean of anyreference to gay and lesbian activities. I did this even though some of my mostsalient leadership experiences had been with gay and lesbian organizations. I just wasn't sure how it would play with the recruiters and I didn't want todisadvantage myself before I even got to the starting gate. I did, however, haveseveral references to AIDS work on my resume. Some people, rightly or wrongly, may have read between the lines because of this.

~In all honesty, I wasn't altogether comfortable with the choice I had made. I had been very out prior to HBS. But I had worked in social services and publichealth; environments that are generally more accepting of diversity in all of its forms. I didn't have direct experience with the business world and gay friends who did work in that sphere, by and large, were not out and did not think it would be received too well. I was seriously lacking positive role models. The really ironic part of this is that I did eventually come out, at some point during the recruiting process, with each potential employer that I was seriously considering. I could not have been more pleasantly surprised. In fact, during my sell day with McKinsey, ten consultants from my chosen office (all straight) took me dancing to a gay club! At that point, I almost asked if the summer offer included a boyfriend. [It didn't, but I'm trying to negotiate it into the full-time offer. Those of you taking Negotiation classes please help me out on this one.]

Well, the point is, the times - they truly are a changin'. This year, I have listed my leadership of the Gay and Lesbian Student Association right at the top of my resume. Trust me - it doesn't seem to be scaring off ANY recruiters (eventhose I wish it would). So, now, some of you are thinking - good for me (happy ending and all), but that's just one person's story. How are other GLAMOTUs handling this issue? Informal conversations with almost two dozen GLAMOTUs (from several different MBA programs) suggest that students are being more open about being gay during the recruiting process (aside: I'm working on an independent research project this year that will survey students at 22 top business schools in the hopes of generating some solid data on this topic).

There are at least a couple of reasons that help explain this greater openness.First, the diversity mantra being chanted throughout Corporate America isbeginning to include gays and lesbians. According to the Workplace Project ofthe Human Rights Campaign, a national gay lobbying group, 71 of the Fortune500 companies offer domestic partner benefits and more than 50% (261) include sexual orientation in their company's nondiscrimination policies. Additionally, top MBA recruiters are hosting targeted dinners for gay and lesbian students (as they do for women and African Americans) in order to send those students a clear message that gays and lesbians can, and do, succeed at their firms.

~McKinsey was the pioneer and several other consulting firms have joined thebandwagon over the past few years. The chairman of Booz Allen, Bill Stasior, went as far as to attend the first gay and lesbian business conference hosted at HBS last March. A cynic might argue that a tight labor market, one in which employers don't want to risk alienating even one potential hire, may have spurred some of these firms to take these actions, but increasingly, Corporate America is realizing that a diverse workforce provides a competitive advantage in understanding a diverse customer base.

A second reason for the greater openness has to do with MBA students themselves. Increasingly, today's MBA students are coming to business school after having been out, for many years, in both their personal and professional lives. Being out is as natural to them as combing their hair, and they simply refuse to have it any other way. They expect that their partners will be entitled to the same benefits that any married couple would receive and they want to form relationships with their colleagues that are based on trust and honesty.

I don't want to leave you with the impression that we've achieved nirvana(certain firms, and even entire industries, are still problematic for gays andlesbians), but as the adage goes - the times, they are a changin'.

Filed Under: Job Search


Managers Seek Recruits With Positive Views Managing Career Expectations in the Internet Economy

Vault welcomes your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful of other readers. Review our User Guidelines.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Career Update Newsletter

Tips and tools to help you manage your ideal career.