Recruiters Target LGBT Community

Consulting and financial firms paying attention to new group of students

On a Monday night in September, about two dozen Harvard students gathered at the Harvard Square hot spot Red Line, to be wined and dined by recruiters from the consulting firms Bain and Co. and the Bridgespan Group.

But while this is a typical scene during financial recruiting season for aspiring juniors and seniors, the topics of discussion at Red Line combined questions about case interviews with those about bringing your same-sex partner to the office Christmas party.

This event hosted by Bain and Bridgespan was just one in a series of efforts from a variety of firms across the country to target LGBT students interested in a future in finance.

James P. Alexander ’10 is just one of the many Harvard students who has taken advantage of the recruiting opportunities provided by these firms to reach out to students who identify as LGBT.

His freshman year, Alexander attended the Out for Undergraduate Business Conference—an annual LGBT conference in New York offering panels addressing everything from resume reviews to sexual orientation in the workplace to networking—and Alexander says he was impressed by the openness of the panelists.

According to Alexander, they were upfront in saying, “Yes, we’re gay, but we do work at these firms.”

And while Marco Chan ’11, co-chair of Harvard’s Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance, notes that many of the on-campus events have not been well attended, he says they have provided LGBT students with an opportunity to learn not only about the recruiting process but the workplace atmosphere of these top firms.

“Questions run the gamut, everything from what are your hours like to can I bring my boyfriend out with colleagues? About significant others and everything in between,” says Matthew S. Meisel ’07, an associate consultant from Bain and Co.

ADDRESSING A NEED

Chan acknowledges that though there have been great strides towards developing welcoming work environments, being open about your sexual orientation in the workplace is still a consideration for many students.

“At the college there is a concern about how one’s identity might impact their employability,” says Chan in regards to coming out during the hiring process.

“Any job I apply for I always wonder about that,” says Alexander, adding that these events convinced him that the financial and consulting sectors are the only ones he would consider entering.

Roger J. Mercado ’10, the other co-chair of BGLTSA, says that these events demonstrate the open and committed environments of these companies.

“No one wants to go back into the closet when they start their career,” adds Mercado.

While these firms may provide an open environment, president of the Harvard Democrats Eva Z. Tam ’10 acknowledges that LGBT students face additional barriers, such as receiving health benefits for their partners.

In the United States, only two states legally recognize same-sex marriage and Tam says that “LGBT employees are always at the whim of employers regarding health benefits.”

HOW THEY RANK

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation develops a Corporate Equality Index each year to rank the policies and practices of large U.S. employers that affect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, consumers, and investors.

This index includes such categories as non-discrimination policies, LGBT employee network/resource groups, worker’s compensation, and domestic partner benefits.

In 2002, only 13 companies received a perfect score, while this number jumped to 260 companies, including Bain and Co. and Bridgespan, in 2009. These two firms were among the first consulting firms to receive such a distinction in 2007, according to their Web sites.

A QUESTION OF DIVERSITY

LGBT networking is just one of many efforts that these firms target through special diversity programs. JP Morgan, for example, has 10 different employee networking groups including PRIDE for LGBT employees, WIN for women’s networking, and Adelante for Latino/Hispanic employees.

About Bain and Co.’s larger diversity goals, Meisel says, “Bain is really looking for a diverse set of people and diversity means a lot of things of course, but as our clients change and as our clients’ needs change, one of the important things is that our team members come from diverse backgrounds.”

John L. Wright, co-president of the Harvard Business School LGBT Student Association and a second year at the Business School, views these recruiting events for LGBT students as not just taking a stance in the LGBT community, but a commitment to diversity in general.

“It sends a broader message about the company,” says Wright. “Companies often say, ‘I want my LGBT events to be publicized campus wide,’ not just because they want more gay students to attend but because it sends a message that if they are gay friendly, they are probably other kinds of friendly, too.”

AN INHERENT ADVANTAGE?

While on-campus recruiting events by these firms provide students with the opportunity to learn more about these companies and their cultures, many students acknowledge that they provide networking opportunities that would be unavailable at larger, non-targeted events.

“People that go generally know everything [about the companies] already, just people who want that little extra thing in their application,” Mercado says.

Yet Alexander, who has been attending such events for the past three years, says they do not give LGBT students any advantage in the recruiting process.

“I felt I had access to a number of contacts I wouldn’t otherwise have had because of the events I attended, but I didn’t feel like the process was any less challenging than it otherwise would have been,” Alexander, who is currently studying abroad, wrote in an e-mailed statement.

“That said, I do know of certain firms who might give your resume an extra look over if they know you fit into a certain minority category,” he adds, “but I’d say that’s the exception, rather than the norm.”

Meisel, who is a former chair of The Crimson’s editorial board, maintains that attending one of these LGBT targeted events is on par with attending any other company event.

“When it actually comes time for them to apply, decisions about the interview process and hiring are still based on resumes and interviews,” Meisel says.

And while Meisel states that there is “no explicit advantage” in taking part in these targeted recruiting events, Wright says that being out may provide advantages in the hiring process.

“If you’re comfortably out, the employer could see it as being able to help with their recruiting and mentoring efforts, a commitment to diversity in general, and being active about the type of culture you set in your company,” Wright says.

The other advantage that Wright notes is that being comfortably out often demonstrates overcoming a challenge.

“Every person who applies to companies wants to demonstrate ways they’ve overcome challenges,” Wright says. “Unless you grew up in New York’s West Village or [San Francisco’s] Castro, being out tends to imply overcoming of a challenge.”

Chan also adds that being out may give “you a more identifiable dimension as a candidate.”

While Wright says that being out may provide advantages during the hiring process, Alexander questions whether simply attending the LGBT-targeted events will provide additional benefits.

“[The events do] give you a different perspective and a different list of contacts,” Alexander said. “But at end of day you’re either qualified for job or not. Just because you’re gay doesn’t change that.”

—Staff writer Rachel A. Stark can be reached at rstark@fas.harvard.edu.