Talk around LGBTQ in business has become more mainstream across business school campuses. Approximately 3% of MBA students in the US identify as LGBTQ.
In the US, organizations like Reaching Out MBA—which hosts an annual LGBTQ in business conference and offers $20,000 fellowships to LGBTQ MBA students—are leading the effort to create the next generation of LGBTQ business leaders.
While less developed outside the US, top Australian business school—the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) at Sydney’s University of New South Wales—has set up its own Pride at AGSM club and one MBA student is fronting the cause for the LGBTQ community down-under.
In October last year, full-time AGSM MBA student Sam Gardner organized The Rainbow Walk, a ‘Walk for Love’ planned in response to the Australian government’s non-binding vote on same-sex marriage—approved by the Australian House of Representatives in December.
In less than six weeks, Sam and a team comprised of AGSM students and staff raised $15,000 to cover the costs of an event which saw over 6,000 people walk the coastal track from Bondi to Bronte Beach in Sydney. A third of the funding was provided by the school.
The Rainbow Walk attracted support from artists, dancers and musicians—an extravaganza of color, music, and visual art—with images splashed across national and international newspapers.
Like many students at AGSM, Sam—a former engineer from a STEM education background—wants to go global and transition into management with an MBA. His own personal goals: to make a social impact and promote the cause of LGBTQ in business worldwide.
AGSM is ranked the best MBA program in Australia by the Financial Times. Through his MBA, Sam has already represented AGSM at the Graduate Business Conference in Hong Kong—covering a whole host of expert speakers and MBA student challenges—and is currently on an MBA exchange at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in the US.
How is AGSM supporting Australia’s LGBT business community?
AGSM was extremely generous and supportive of the Rainbow Walk. Apart from helping fund the event, the school provided a wealth of knowledge and experience I could call upon, as well as giving me the space to grow and practice my own leadership skills. It was heartening that my entire cohort got behind the initiative too, with many volunteering to help out on the day.
I'm also really excited about the Pride at AGSM club. I would say visibility is still the biggest barrier for the LGBT community, especially in relatively conservative arenas such as business. By simply starting more conversations and providing more exposure to these themes, the more normalized it becomes over time, which is the ultimate goal for the LGBT community.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at AGSM?
The AGSM MBA was a fairly easy choice. The school is located just by the beach, in a city that I love and has a reputation for being one of the best in the region. Also, the international exchange opportunities at AGSM were unmatched by other schools, which were a huge drawcard for me.
What stands out from your MBA experience so far?
Representing AGSM at the Graduate Business Conference in Hong Kong was definitely a highlight for me. We were able to get to know and learn from other student presidents from other great schools around the world. Being elected as co-president was an amazing learning opportunity for me as it gave me a platform to lead a group of incredibly talented and diverse individuals, in a challenging but safe environment.
What have you gained?
The MBA experience has been transformational for me. AGSM has given me leadership and business skills that have shaped me into a much more rounded professional. I intend to move from engineering roles to more leadership roles and am interested in the social impact space, which I now feel confident in pursuing. I also don't believe I could have achieved the success of The Rainbow Walk without the skills I’ve learned at the Australian Graduate School of Management.
What advice do you have for anyone considering an MBA?
Every business school has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, and if one business school was great for one person, it doesn't necessarily mean it’s great for you too. For example, some schools have better social dynamics than others or better executive programs over full-time programs.
It’s difficult to learn these insights from surface-level research. I would suggest talking to people from various schools about their own experiences as well as their view on how different schools compare, then pattern-match to what you are after in a business school.