In February, Stanford LGBT Business Alliance held its first meeting, marking the initiation of a new student group dedicated to helping students who identify as LGBT find their way in the business world. Stanford LGBT Alliance joins a wide array of pre-business groups on campus, some old and some new, that offer programming and support targeted towards minorities and identities that have traditionally been underrepresented in the business world.
Business Groups for Minorities
Stanford LGBT Business Alliance was founded by Alex Salton ’15, the organization’s president, and Alejandro Gonzalez Tate ’15, the organization’s vice president, and Han Lee ’15, the organization’s financial officer, in order to help LGBT students overcome obstacles in business.
“There wasn’t really a great space for people who identify as LGBT to look into business,” Tate said. “But you can still be LGBT and working on Wall Street.” Tate and Salton wanted to provide the help and support that they didn’t have when starting out as undergraduates.
“We had to seek that [support] out individually. It is really sad that there are programs that feed into Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan or McKinsey but we didn’t have a student group for [spreading awareness of] these sorts of supports,” Tate said. “Harvard, Columbia, Brown — basically all our peer institutes had a business-focused LGBT group,” he added.
Like Stanford LGBT Business Alliance, the Latino Business Association also aims to provide support to minority students looking to enter the business world. After being deactivated for a few years, the Latino Business Association started again this year and is made up primarily of international students from Latin America, students who have dual citizenship from countries in Latin America or students who identify culturally with Latin America.
“Even though we have…somewhat similar business practices [in Latin American countries], some of them couldn’t be more different, and…the culture clashes always come into play,” said Virgilio Urmeneta ’17, the president of the Latino Business Association. “Finding your place in the business world is…already hard enough, but when you’re doing so in a country that’s not where you’re from and you’re visiting as a student…it’s always an obstacle, always makes things a bit harder,” Urmeneta said.
Business groups focused on minority outreach can also provide a valuable community for their members.
“It’s a great platform for community building. It can be hard at Stanford to find a group of people that you like to work with and have fun with,” explained David Jiang ’16, the current president of the Asia-Pacific Entrepreneurship Society, a group for students interested in business in Asia. “What we’ve been trying to do this year, beyond just preparing people for working in a firm or the industry, is focusing on building real relationships beyond just networking or meeting as many people as possible. There’s importance in developing those relationships, in creating something beyond the bonds of utility.”
One service that student groups targeted towards addressing the needs of underrepresented students provide is mentorship. The Latino Business Association is starting a mentorship program with the Graduate School of Business.
“We’re going to match a student from our club…with a Latin American student from the GSB with similar interests and career goals,” Urmeneta said. “GSB students obviously have some experience, so hopefully [we] want to match someone…who already has experience in that field [of interest].”
“They [graduate students in the Business School] have…all done this rodeo many times before, so they know, and their experience is invaluable for us,” Urmeneta later added.
Stanford LGBT Business Alliance also started out by establishing a mentorship program.
“I chose to join the group because…I knew the people and knew they very much cared about the mentorship aspect,” said Jack Weller ’17, a member of Stanford LGBT Business Alliance. “It is a very valuable chance to get to hear and learn from people who have gone through it before, and I hope to someday serve in a mentorship capacity to people like me.”
Mentorship can be particularly important for pre-business students who are underrepresented in the field.
“[One reason] SWIB was founded [was] mentorship…providing opportunities for women like us to have role models” said Priyanka Jain ’16, one of the co-presidents of Stanford Women in Business. “I think that one of the reasons that’s so important is that there is such a shortage of women like us in leadership roles in business…and so we think that by increasing this diversity and by encouraging more girls and giving them the community that they need to succeed, we can really change that.”
Cyarra Holmes ’16, another SWIB co-president, agreed.
“I think it’s really important to have strong networks,” Holmes said. “That’s crucial for when you’re trying to rise in the industry to have a strong network of women and other minorities because you can bounce ideas of off them and when you rise up the ranks, you can bring them up with you.”
Another aspect that is central to all business groups on campus is providing opportunities for students to connect with Silicon Valley and other parts of the business world.
“It gives you kind of early exposure into what entrepreneurship…looks like so you can be a lot more well informed and you can actually figure out whether or not this is the right path for you,” said Andrea Sy ’15, the president of the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES), an entrepreneurial student group.
“You get to connect with industry professionals to see what a job in product management looks like, or what a job in like software engineering looks like…or what it looks like to be working at a startup,” Sy added.
Networking can help business group members find jobs, internships and other opportunities in business.
“A lot of times it’s hard to get your first internship if you haven’t had any experience in the past,” Jain said. “So we really hope to get their foot in the door and give them this first opportunity that can then enable them to go on and do greater things.”
Business groups also often hold conferences and events like SWIB’s Tech Week and BASES’s Big Hack.
BASES is not exclusively directed at minority participation in entrepreneurship, but it does work to make its programming appeal to those groups.
“BASES actually hosted our first women in entrepreneurship summit…and so that was really successful. We got Julia Hartz, the CEO of EventBrite to come in and talk to a roomful of girls; also we broke up into smaller group sessions with four or five other female entrepreneurs,” Sy said. BASES has not held specific events for other underrepresented students.
“For other groups we haven’t had as much time or as many resources to really focus our efforts on that,” Sy admitted. “But that’s definitely on our radar, and one thing we did do this year was for Big Hack, where we had like a bunch of students from around the U.S. come in for this 36-hour hackathon. We actually made it a point that we wanted women and minority groups to be equally represented as much as possible, and so we even had this special committee on the team…promoting the event to minority groups,” Sy said.
Collaboration Between Groups
Some business groups targeted towards minorities work on events together, like a diversity panel put on by Stanford LGBT Business Alliance and SWIB. But in general, collaboration beyond co-sponsorships isn’t very common.
“Just with Stanford in general, there’s not a lot of collaboration between groups,” Jiang said. “There’s not really an opportunity to sit down with other organization leaders to plan something to benefit us all across the table…it comes back to a problem about not enough awareness and community across groups,” he said.
SWIB is one group that’s trying to increase collaboration between different underrepresented communities.
“We’re working more with women of color, the black community services center, LGBTQ groups,” said Holmes. “That’ll be very important to us because we do think it’s important to have this network of underrepresented minorities and that’s really going to strengthen businesses overall.”
The specialization of business groups can also have its benefits, however.
“The women at SWIB are really good at what they do, because I couldn’t tell you what it’s like to be a woman in business. But they couldn’t tell [you] about being LGBT in business,” Tate explained.
The Expanding Role of Minority Business Groups
Looking towards the future, many business groups hope to expand their efforts to help minority students.
“I don’t think it’s ever going to be a massive group based on just the fact that there won’t be 300 LGBT students who want to work at Goldman [Sachs],” said Salton. But he and Tate believe that Stanford LGBT Business Alliance can grow in other ways.
“Soon will be the first time there will be alums, and so five years from now we will be somewhere hopefully successful. And it will be like ‘the founder was gay, Latino, etc.’ and people can talk about that,” Tate said. “That is what we have done by informally reaching out to alums that we happen to know, but we imagine having this larger back-end network so students can actually show interest and promise in these companies. We are choosing to pay it forward.”
Contact Sarah Wishingrad at swishing ‘at’ stanford.edu.
Correction: An earlier version of this article left out Han Lee as a cosponsor of Stanford LGBT Business Alliance, and mistakenly called the group the LGBT Business Alliance instead of Stanford LGBT Business Alliance. The Daily regrets this error.