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ROMBA Fellowship Attracts LGBT and Ally MBA Talent

Bryant Ramirez, MBA '17, and Texas MBA at the Annual ROMBA Conference in October

When Bryant Ramirez, MBA '17, was deciding between graduate schools, a prestigious fellowship helped him make his choice.

In December 2014, Ramirez received his offer of admission from the McCombs School of Business. A week later, Ramirez learned he was among 25 MBA students nationwide who were selected for the Reaching Out LGBT MBA Fellowship, a new award for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and active ally business leaders. The McCombs School of Business was one of eight schools to participate in the inaugural year of the program.

Though he had visited Austin only once before, Ramirez was sold on the city's cultural scene. He accepted the offer.

"It's exciting, not only that it's a significant scholarship, but also to me, it comes with an obligation of being someone who's seen as an LGBT leader," Ramirez says.

Bringing Authentic MBA Talent to McCombs

Bryant Ramirez, MBA '17Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) is a non-profit organization that educates and connects LGBT MBA students in United States business schools. Founded in 1999 by the Harvard Business School and the Yale School of Management, the organization has since grown to nearly 40 schools.

According to Tina Mabley, MBA '98, assistant dean and director of the MBA program, the university's membership in ROMBA allows the program to access talent and recruit candidates who share the school's values of inclusion. The ROMBA identifier works similarly for businesses interested in hiring employees who bring their authentic selves to work.

"We pride ourselves in bringing in a diverse group of students with all kinds of backgrounds, perspectives, awareness, experiences," says Mabley. "This is one [part] of working with students to make sure they know they can be comfortable bringing their authentic selves."

Last year, ROMBA started the LGBT MBA Fellowship as a joint venture with McCombs and seven other participating MBA programs. As a fellow, the Reaching Out LGBT MBA Fellowship provides Ramirez and other recipients with a $10,000 scholarship per academic year. Fellows also receive access to mentorship and leadership development programming, such as the annual ROMBA conference. In the last year, the program has grown to 24 participating schools.

"Being one of the inaugural schools in the program, it does send a message to prospective students," says Rodrigo Malta, MBA '07, the MBA program's director of admissions. "It becomes easier for them to approach us when we're ourselves as well."

In October, Ramirez and hundreds of other students attended the annual ROMBA conference in Chicago, where they met tech and consulting recruiters and listened to speeches from Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and actress and LGBT activist Laverne Cox. Ramirez says he felt the governor's speech echoed the support and compassion of people who, though they may have other conservative views, understand that LGBT leaders make valuable contributions to business and beyond.

Gov. Rauner spoke to the participants as equals, Ramirez says. "He's a straight white man, a Republican, saying, 'Look, you are the next leaders in business. See what's out there and maybe come back to my state and help our state grow.' He's a politician, and the fact he spent his time there to send a message really meant a lot."

Working Toward Equality

April Asico, MBA '16At this year's ROMBA conference, April Asico, MBA '16, president of the eQual MBAs, a social and career networking group for McCombs LGBT and ally MBAs, hosted the forum on fostering straight allies in programs. Asico says allies not only help the LGBT community, but also grow themselves both personally and professionally.

"A lot of movements and improvements in history have occurred because of people becoming allies," Asico says. "Do consider that one day you may work for someone within the community. You may employ someone within the community. When you open the spectrum that way I think most people can find themselves great candidates to be an ally."

Ramirez has begun making his mark as an active member of eQual. He's also in the process of bringing Sparkr, an innovation leadership non-profit he co-founded, from San Francisco to McCombs. His goal is to make innovation and accomplishment available to all people regardless of their background. For Ramirez, being a ROMBA fellow is more than a title, but a platform for leading within the LGBT community.

"The ROMBA fellowship embodies the support that the school is communicating," Ramirez says. "The support matters because it allows us all to be significant contributors. How we identify should not be the basis of what opportunities we have."

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