Being Out in Business School
When Alexandra Tapley MBA’19 applied to Babson College, she had come out only about a year and a half earlier.
So, when filling out the application, checking the box for her sexual orientation felt like a small yet still significant gesture. “It’s owning who you are,” she says. Tapley later joked that, after her mother and therapist, the Babson application was the third “person” she had come out to.
Checking that box would turn out to have a profound effect on Tapley’s life. It would lead to her being named a fellow of Reaching Out MBA, or ROMBA, an organization that supports MBA students who are LGBTQ+. As a member of ROMBA, Tapley would take part in a retreat she describes as life changing, and she would find much-needed support from a welcoming community of her fellow MBA students.
For someone who was becoming more open about who she was as a person, while at the same time trying to adjust to the rigors of a top business school, that support was critical.
“It’s empowering. Everyone needs a support system,” Tapley says. “ROMBA gave me the confidence to live my life, to have that confidence going into business school. I am forever grateful for that.”
To be open about one’s identity may not always seem so easy in business school and the larger business world. The highly visible and inclusive LGBTQ+ community at Babson’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business seeks to ease those concerns, says Mia Di Stefano MBA’19. While she was at Babson, Di Stefano served as president of the Out Network, a group for LGBTQ+ students and their allies. “Being open about who you are in a professional setting is not something to be afraid of,” she says.
Like Tapley, many students in Babson’s LGBTQ+ community are navigating who they want to be in their personal and professional lives. “One thing that is beautiful about the Out Network is that everyone is at a different stage in their coming out process,” Di Stefano says. “For me, being queer is part of who I am and has been my entire adult life, but there were other students who were figuring out what it means to be openly LGBTQ in grad school.”
For Tapley, coming out was a relief. She finally could pull the curtain back on her true self. “It’s not fun to be hiding and lying,” she says. “If you’re in the closet, it’s impeding your ability to grow as a person. It drains you as a person. It inhibits your productivity and where you want to go as a person.”
As difficult as coming out to her traditional and patriarchal British family was for Tapley, she saw that being one’s true self was even harder for some of her Babson classmates, who might hail from conservative cultures. Being openly gay, in some places, can be unsafe.
“It’s empowering. Everyone needs a support system. ROMBA gave me the confidence to live my life, to have that confidence going into business school. I am forever grateful for that.”
Alexandra Tapley MBA’19, a former fellow of Reaching Out MBA, or ROMBA
Wherever her classmates were in their coming out process, Tapley tried to be supportive. That didn’t necessarily mean she would offer lots of advice. Everyone’s coming out journey is unique to their own circumstances, she says, and so she didn’t want to prescribe specific recommendations that might work for her but not others.
Instead, Tapley approached her classmates with empathy. She made sure to notice when someone was going through challenges and take the time to listen to them. “You let them figure it out and just be there,” she says.
Standing with Many
While at Babson, Tapley also was exposed to the larger LGBTQ+ community beyond campus. As part of ROMBA, she attended a transformational retreat in New York City with MBA students from other schools. The group toured LGBTQ+ landmarks, such as the site of the 1969 Stonewall riots and places that played a critical role caring for the sick during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
“It was the best weekend of my life,” Tapley says. “It was a place where you could feel safe to learn about a part of you that you had been tamping down for a long time.” Tapley realized that her coming out, while deeply personal, made her part of a story that’s much larger than herself. “I am now part of this group,” she says. “I am part of this history, and I own this history.”
“Being open about who you are in a professional setting is not something to be afraid of.”
Mia Di Stefano MBA’19, former president of the Out Network
In addition to the retreat, ROMBA also hosts an annual conference for LGBTQ+ business students and alumni. Attending the conference, Tapley was surprised by the strength of the LGBTQ+ network. “The biggest companies you could think of were there,” Tapley says.
The conference attendees, instead of hiding their true selves for fear of losing out on a corporate job, were doing the opposite. They were out and proud, and the companies in attendance were taking notice. “When corporations support ROMBA, they are putting their dollars where it matters,” Di Stefano says.
For Tapley, the important takeaway of the conference and retreat, as well as from the supportive LGBTQ+ community at Babson, is that her challenges and triumphs do not happen in a vacuum. She stands with many. “You are not alone,” she says.
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