And this is especially a problem if you’re a woman about to finish her MBA.
When there are fewer women in positions of leadership, there are fewer women to mentor me, and there are fewer opportunities for me and other women seeking job opportunities to meet a high achieving business exec, strike up a conversation, and inspire her to want to help you because she sees you as a younger version of herself. Which is routinely what happens with men. That is fine; good for you – I just would like the same opportunity.
And I would need another hour to delve into how the backlash against the #MeToo movement is resulting in even fewer opportunities for women in the C suite. Or how men who don’t know how to manage problematic men perpetuate problematic men.
While the SI-MBA program is fairly balanced in terms of female and male students admitted, it is not balanced in terms of gender in its leadership or faculty, which I *might* have brought up over the course of the year. Once or twice. And I’m not even touching on the lack of nonbinary and trans representation at any level of this program, student or otherwise – or acknowledgement of you, if you are here.
Another reason I’m not supposed to be here: I’m queer.
My sexual orientation falls outside of the heteronormative monogamous relationships that most of our culture lives within. I’m comfortable with this, as evidenced by the rainbow sash I’m proudly wearing today. I’ve been out for over 20 years – almost as long as my colleague Meg has been alive – but even in 2019, over 50% of LGBTQ MBAs will remain closeted on the job for fear of lost opportunities. That does not sound like equality, and that does not bode well for me.
Those who fall outside of the white straight able-bodied norm don’t get invited to the golf outings and weekend cookouts where the real business happens.
Don’t worry, there’s good news for me: many of my barriers will be mitigated by my white privilege and my citizenship privileges. For my classmates and future attendees of this program who are of color, immigrants, religious minorities, bearing disabilities, non-binary, and holding other difference that we can’t even see, the climb is exponentially steeper.
Why does it matter?
Why does it matter that most of the people in CEO positions look, think, and act the same? Why does it matter that people who don’t look like them often face the majority of what we like to call playfully call in our program ‘negative externalities’? And why does it matter that I’m getting an MBA as a queer woman in my 40s who grew up in a trailer and has two too many tattoos?
Because I’m trying to get into an industry that doesn’t look like me and, frankly, isn’t looking for me. This status quo isn’t designed for me. And I’m not alone. I’m not the biggest outsider, and I’m not the most silenced – I have the mircophone. Other people don’t get here.
We have spoken ad nauseam in our program about how innovation in business is needed to bring industries up to speed as we face the startling fact of climate change, but it remains that people running our businesses have no incentive to change, because when the status quo is designed to benefit you, you are less likely to upend the status quo.
We need diversity in business leadership. Not just in a way that checks a box, fulfills a sparkly new policy, or looks good on a brochure. We need diversity in thought, which comes from a diversity of experience, ways of seeing and being in the world that are truly different – not better, but different – which leads to conversation, innovation, iteration, and improvement. Based on all of our conversations about the triple bottom line this year, it’s not just about money anymore. It can’t be. So we need to think past the money men.
Pessimism is the enemy of change.
There’s a laziness to thinking that business as an industry, or our planet as a whole, is irrevocably broken. It lets us off the hook, stuck in blaming mode and accepting of the status quo. And this part is specifically for my classmates: Screw the status quo.
We need to leave this program not just with an understanding of transparency, corporate social responsibility, or stakeholder engagement. Those are necessary but arduous intellectual exercises often employed in times of challenge or crisis, by people who don’t appear to have the imagination to consider the consequences of their decisions. And they’re often presenting these things to boards full of people who look exactly like them – a different type of pressure.
To illustrate what I’m getting at here:
- Imagine the kind of changes that could come if we handed ExxonMobil to indigenous people?
- What if we gave all justice and policing responsibilities to Black Lives Matter?
- What if someone who’s actually been homeless ran the Department of Housing and Urban Development?
- Or what if we handed the reins of the NRA to a mother who’s lost a child in a school shooting?
And if your answer is that they probably don’t have the right education, they didn’t go to the right schools, or they don’t have a ‘corporate presence,’ then it’s time to investigate your privilege. Lucky for you, I’ll be available for hire in 40 minutes.
Now that we’re here, SI-MBA Class of 2019, inches from our diplomas, we have to think about what getting here means: this degree now gives us access, opportunity, and, most importantly, bestows upon us the responsibility not to do things that way our forebearers have.
Ok – I know things have gotten a little serious in the past few minutes, but, for me, this has only made me feel closer to you. So I’m going to make a confession:
Sometimes, in private, in bar booths and sad, temporary, rented student apartments, my classmates (who shall remain nameless) and I talked about how the knowledge we were acquiring was actually kind of depressing, how maybe, because of the harm that’s already been done, we are too late to change it, that this is just the way things are going to be, and that we should just go with the flow.
The pessimist in me sees all the reasons why the world’s too broken to fix. The optimist in me already knows we have the solutions right here in this room:
- I wanna see Alyssa Schuetz banish fast fashion from the earth.
- I wanna see Alyssa Stankiewicz revolutionize and democratize financial literacy.
- I wanna see Caitlyn Kenney create frameworks for artists to monetize and thrive while creating her own beautiful work.
- I wanna see Pete Seltzer bring impact investing to the forefront of financial discussions.
- I wanna see which massive, monstrous, seemingly irredeemable companies Emily Foster steers toward closed-loop supply chains.
In addition to my dreaming, I also offer a challenge: I challenge Dean Sharma, Professor Schnitzein, Provost Prelock, and the rest of the SI-MBA leadership to improve upon the power of this program by committing to hiring more female professors, hiring more professors of color, indigenous professors, nonbinary professors, professors with disabilities, and other marginalized people.
I’m not talking about Guest Lecturers. I’m not talking about Innovators in Residence. I’m talking about full professors on tenure tracks, present on campus and invested in our development. Professors from marginalized communities are out there, under-employed and adjunct-ed to death, and they are ready. They want to come and talk with these students. We need this in order to prepare for the world we’re graduating into, the world you expect us to change.
We’d be here all night if I listed my dream accomplishments for each of my classmates. Instead I look forward to seeing each of you celebrate your new jobs on LinkedIn over the coming months. In choosing your new jobs, take your time. Live in you parents’ basements, if that’s an option for you. Crash on my couch, if you find yourself in Chicago. Choose well. Get what you deserve. Change the status quo. Give ‘em hell.