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From May 2-6, Pride@Kellogg (P@K) hosted the second annual LGBT Ally Week with the aim of celebrating diversity and raising awareness of LGBT issues and rights. The week featured 10 different social and speaker events targeting different members of the Kellogg audience, with topics ranging from LGBT individuals in sports to tips for being a better Ally in the workplace.

Throughout the course of the week, more than 230 people attended six speaker events. There was also a solid showing for two social events and a series of small group dinner discussions focused on relevant topics. The week culminated with LGBT Preview Day, which invited prospective students from across the country to experience a day in the life of a Kellogg student.

More than 430 people signed the Kellogg Ally Pledge, vowing “to respect and support LGBT classmates, colleagues, friends or family members in encouraging equality in all aspects of their personal and professional lives.”

The level of engagement throughout the week was wonderful, building largely on the success of MOSAIC Week in stimulating conversations about the importance of diversity, as well as a candid sense of curiosity among those actively seeking to become better Allies. One visible example of this was the ongoing presence throughout the week of the “Celebrating Diversity” t-shirts; P@K sold more than 200 shirts, in addition to the 200+ shirts sold at other events during the year.

As Vice President for Ally Relations for P@K, it was especially rewarding to be a part of driving the discussion around the importance of LGBT diversity. While it is impossible to capture all of the takeaways from the week, five key learnings stand out to me in particular:

  • More people identify as LGBT than ever before. During Tuesday’s “Understanding and Marketing to LGBT Consumers” event, representatives from Nielsen showed data that the percentage of people identifying as LGBT in the United States is now 8.3%. That’s more than 26 million people! And guess what? They’re not all the same! There is just as much diversity within and across the LGBT spectrum as there is among the general population. Being an Ally often starts with knowing someone who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. With more and more people openly identifying as LGBT, there is not only a need for, but also greater interest among straight individuals seeking to “come out” as Allies as well.
  • There is a case for building inclusive cultures and business models. Multiple studies have shown that more than a third of all LGBT individuals choose not to come out at work for fear of being discriminated or treated differently. Correlation also exists between being closeted in the workplace and lower overall performance, suggesting that companies that embrace LGBT diversity can achieve greater business results. Representatives of the PepsiCo EQUAL group spoke to Kellogg students about the importance of Ally programs and provided advice on cultivating a more inclusive and LGBT-friendly culture in our professional lives. Google and Nielsen further demonstrated how firms that strive to understand and target LGBT individuals can attract lucrative new consumer relationships.
  • Being an Ally extends beyond LGBT. Diversity and inclusion in all of its facets is absolutely critical for cultivating strong and welcoming cultures at school, at work and even in our professional lives. In speaking to more than 50 Kellogg students, Eric Lueshen – a former kicker for the Nebraska Cornhuskers from 2003-04 and the first openly gay NCAA football player – mentioned that, “to be different is to be human.” This diversity spans more than just sexual identity, race, ethnicity, religion and gender, but should include diversity of opinion, backgrounds, experiences and aspirations. And despite these differences, we are all more similar than we might otherwise think, each seeking the same basic freedoms and standards of living. In the most simple sense, being an Ally is merely “seeing things from other people’s perspective,” according to first-year Ally Tyler Morrison.
  • Marriage equality does not equal social equality. During the week’s “Hear My Story – What It Means to be an Ally” panel, Professor Megan Kashner – who has been with and raised a family with her same-sex partner for more than 23 years – emphasized that, “we can’t rest now just because we can marry. It’s just not that simple.” And she’s right. As Professor Lane Fenrich alluded to in his discussion on the history of LGBT civil rights in the US, there’s no time like the present. Virtually every week there is a new controversial law or incident regarding the rights of LGBT people in our country and around the world. And the fight extends outside of the courts as well. Allies must recognize and be empathetic of the small ways in which LGBT individuals are forced to think and act differently on a daily basis, not necessarily even out of fear, but out of the need to adapt to environments, cultures and conversations that are built to accommodate heterosexual norms rather than their own.
  • Sexual and gender orientation do not solely identify a person. In speaking about his experience as a kicker for the Cornhuskers, Lueshen mentioned the importance of living authentically and how being gay was just one part of his identity. In reference to his teammates he said, “They’re going to judge me by things that matter – my values, my morals, my ability to play football – and not my sexuality.” I think more than anything, being an Ally means recognizing and appreciating LGBT diversity, but at the same time understanding that it is almost certainly not the most interesting or distinguishing feature about that person.

Perhaps Will Jacob, a graduating student who came out of the closet as openly gay during the second half of his first year at Kellogg, said it best: “Just having one or two people behind you makes you feel so much more supported in a larger environment.” That, in essence, is why we do Ally Week, and why Kellogg has cemented itself as one of the most diverse and inclusive MBA programs in the world.

Kyle Burr is a second-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year Program. Prior to Kellogg, Kyle consulted for federal government clients in Washington, DC and worked for two social impact organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa. Upon graduation, Kyle will be working in marketing at Tyson Foods, Inc. as an Associate Brand Manager.