"For some people, [a closeted existence] is worth it. I'm not one of those people," first-year Isenberg MBA student Corey Hodges told BusinessWeek in an interview at the annual Reaching Out LGBT MBA Conference on October 3-6 in San Francisco. The gathering, which celebrated lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender MBA students and graduates, explored critical classroom and workplace issues through speakers and panel discussions. It also offered networking opportunities with 1,350 participants, including 80 sponsors/employers and students from nearly every leading business school.
Hodges arrived at Isenberg in September after spending 6+ years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, much of that time as an engineer on nuclear submarines. More than half of Hodges' Navy career was subject to the "Don't ask; don't tell," stricture. When that got rescinded in September of 2011, "I still had to be discreet to advance as a Navy officer," he confessed.
Isenberg and Employers Are on the Same Page
For Hodges, Isenberg has been a world apart. "It's been way better than tolerant," he observes. The MBA program's team-oriented culture, he notes, values problem solving that incorporates diverse skill sets, perspectives, and professional and cultural backgrounds. "Everyone," he says, "brings their own assets to the table; everyone contributes as members of the group and in teams."
That is increasingly in step, he adds, with the groundswell of employers that value gender and cultural diversity for their positive impact on innovation; for their contributions to a firm's competitiveness in markets across cultures and subcultures. That momentum was evident in the 80 sponsor/recruiters that participated in the Reaching Out MBA conference. They were, in fact, a virtual Who's Who of Corporate America, including Delta Airlines, General Motors, Target, EMC, Bank of America Merrill-Lynch, Apple, Biogen Idec, and many others.
"Isenberg had a strong presence at the conference--three students and two alumni, including Beck Bailey '14, who was on a panel that explored transgender issues," recalled Hodges. It is important, he emphasized, that Isenberg, with its progressive culture, have a footprint at such national gatherings.
Activism and Military Background
One theme at the conference and noted in the BusinessWeek article professed that LGBT students who go public with their identities at their universities should be just as comfortable to do the same in the workplace. That is one of several concerns that drives Hodges' activism as an Isenberg MBA student. In addition to his involvement in Isenberg's Reaching Out MBA chapter, Out@Isenberg, he is a graduate student senator and a member of Isenberg's Net Impact chapter, which deploys business skills on behalf of progressive social and environmental causes.
While Hodges admits that his own openness and visibility are critical to his activism, he adds that his professional history and skill set give him a competitive advantage in the internship and job markets. Educated as an engineer (he earned a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering at UMass Amherst), he has held officer-level responsibilities in the Navy for weapons, sonar, communications, information, electronics, chemical and radiological controls, and navigational electronics. At Isenberg, he has embarked on a three-year program that will bring him a dual MBA/M.S. degree in industrial engineering. "I also have a high security clearance, which makes me attractive to some employers," remarked Hodges, who by mid-October had secured seven internship offers.
With 53% of LGBT employees closeted in the workplace, being open is one ideal that Hodges won't compromise on--in either the professional world or academe. As Hodges told BusinessWeek, "With our generation, there's enough of a mentality where it's like, I'm not going to deal with this. . . I will find someone who will find value in what I have to provide, and if that's not you, that's fine."