Making an impact by making inclusion happen
The business world is beginning to understand the positive implications that diversity, equity, and inclusion can have. Now is an opportune moment for members of the LGBTQ+ community willing to pursue business education to consider an MBA.
However, getting accepted into a MBA program is challenging, especially as a member of the queer community. Preparing for and applying to schools requires a lot of time, effort, and soul-searching to present your most authentic self. For prospective LGBTQ+ students, among all the other things that make them unique, there’s the decision to include their sexual or gender identity.
Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) is an organization that can help make that decision and the whole application process easier. Over the last decades, ROMBA has educated, inspired, and connected LGBTQ+ MBA students and alums of business schools worldwide.
They organize their flagship event – an annual conference for international LGBTQ+ students and business professionals each year. The aim of the Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) conferences is to:
- Educate students about the opportunities and challenges of being LGBTQ+ MBA students;
- Inspire and enable LGBTQ+ MBA students to be leaders in their careers and society;
- Build connections among LGBTQ+ MBA students and alums.
A small step to a giant leap
The ROMBA conference is the organization’s largest gathering of LGBTQ+ business students worldwide. The conference provides future LGBTQ+ professionals the opportunity to network, learn and improve their skills to emerge more robust into the business world.
In October 2022, they celebrated their 25th conference in Washington, DC, with nearly 2000 participants from schools in Canada, Europe, and Australia. There were a good mix of students and a hundred different corporate partners. Ashley Mudd, the program director at Reaching Out, informs us how far they’ve come. The first ROMBA conference took place in “1998 with a handful of LGBTQ+ MBA students.” (00:41)
Ashley adds, “we offer a variety of content, themes, and topics at the conference to build that sense of community. We really make sure that people that attend feel that sense of belonging while they are there because we know they might not be feeling the same in other spaces.” (02:02)
Reaching Out makes room for many different understandings of identity. They encourage members to be sharp, bold, authentic, daring, and vocal. Ashley says that the ROMBA conference helps students gain their voice. “What does it mean to be out and queer in business?” she asks. “How do you show up authentically in your interview? Do you come out in the interview, or wait until you begin working? What happens if you go through changes in your identity? How do you address that in the workplace?” (01:43)
Connecting with others asking the same questions helps individuals find the correct answers for themselves. However, the conference isn’t the only opportunity to do so.
Fellowships fostering LGBTQ+ leaders
In addition to the annual conference, since 2014, ROMBA has offered an LGBTQ+ MBA Fellowship. Each year 110–120 students receive a ROMBA fellowship. Fellows receive mentorship and access to leadership development programs. ROMBA Fellows, in turn, serve as ambassadors for the LGBTQ+ community. They take an active role on campus with LGBTQ+ initiatives and find opportunities to institute inclusive policies.
Ashley says, “We also focus on developing both the leadership capacity and career capacity of our Fellows. Because we believe that they will be the future LGBTQ+ business leaders. We want them to lead on campus and lead in business. We have some fellows who have advocated and were successful in policy change on campus while on the program – instituting pronouns, changing how identity was asked in an application.” (11:35)
A network that strengthens inclusivity
When one person raises their voice, others also gradually feel more comfortable and confident doing the same. A strong connection between LGBTQ+ MBA students is vital to make their voices heard. ROMBA thus gives an opportunity to pre-MBA students to meet each other in the summer before starting.
The summer treks are organized in five U.S. cities. They are competitive, with only 20 to 25 students selected to attend. However, it’s a free event, and students in need can get a travel stipend.
As part of the two-day trip, students meet recruiters, C-Suite executives, and VPs representing employment opportunities students may have yet to consider. This exposure to different career paths can broaden their perspectives and enhances their understanding of the job market.
“They get to meet leaders in the headquarters of the businesses that we are working with. This past summer we were in Seattle, and we spent half a day in the Starbucks office,” Ashley says as an example of the experience. (13:38)
Not just one conference; it is forever
ROMBA community offers a space to find strength, support, and the resources to succeed. Then, as they say, life comes full circle. ROMBA community members have become successful professionals or entrepreneurs and return to help those just getting started.
“After graduation, several of our students have gone on to become our corporate partners,” Ashley says. ROMBA establishes a strong relationship with students. They guide and mentor students to develop their skills for leadership roles. The connection stays even after the students find employment. “The benefit for them by keeping this relationship with us as we are committed to helping find incredible LGBTQ+ talent for those companies.” (15:00)
This year the ROMBA conference will be in Chicago from October 5th to 7th. If you are considering an MBA and you belong to the LGBTQ+ community, the ROMBA conferences can be instrumental in accelerating your future career path.