MBA Student

Forté Fellows Take A Stand Against Anti-LGBTQIAS+ Discrimination

With anti-LGBTQIAS+ legislation sweeping across states in record numbers, it’s not surprising that discrimination is also on the rise. According to the Center for American Progress, LGBTQIAS+ individuals “continue to experience significantly higher rates of discrimination than non-LGBTQIAS+ individuals, a trend that holds true in virtually every setting surveyed—including health care, employment, housing, and public spaces.” 

The business community is no exception, but fortunately there are companies, organizations, and individuals who are standing up against this discrimination and shining a light on these inequities.  

For example, more than 300 leading U.S. companies have signed the HRC’s business statement opposing anti-LGBTQIAS+ legislation. Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) is an organization with a mission to “increase the influence of the LGBTQIAS+ community in business by education, inspiring and connecting MBA students and alumni.”  

Additionally, many MBA programs sponsor organizations that support LGBTQIAS+ students and their allies to make sure they feel welcomed and valued as a part of the broader business school community. 

Forté is proud to share the stories of three individuals – all Forté Fellows – who are also making a difference in the lives of LGBTQIAS+ MBA students.  

Ximena Bobadilla
MBA, Arts, Media & Entertainment Management: University of Southern California – Marshall School of Business, Class of 2023 

Growing up in Florida, the youngest of Mexican immigrant parents who encouraged their children to dream big, Ximena had their heart set on working for Disney one day as an “imagineer.” The team responsible for research and design and bringing new characters and theme parks to life, “imagineering” appealed to Ximena’s creative side, which they demonstrated through the performing arts as a child.  When they went to Wellesley College, Ximena studied architecture and film production, then worked at an Apple Genius Bar for a stint, and eventually landed in New York City working for an architecture interiors firm. 

While there, Ximena worked with individuals whose values didn’t align with their own.  Ximena realized that professional fulfillment would need to come from helping underrepresented people, particularly other non-binary folx, and telling their stories.  

Having lost their father to lung cancer at 14, Ximena had taken his death as motivation to live a life he would be proud of. Harking back to their Disney dreams, Ximena googled “the business of entertainment,” and the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business popped up. They saw that it was possible to get a certificate in Cinematic Arts alongside the MBA, and Ximena was soon packing for California. 

During their time at USC, Ximena joined Marshall Pride, which “fosters greater diversity and inclusivity in the business community by providing professional development, social networking, and advocacy opportunities to LGBTQIA+ graduate students at USC Marshall.” During their second year at Marshall, Ximena became the president of Marshall Pride, which has 135 members. Ximena is very proud of what they have been able to accomplish. “When I took over, we only got $2500 total in funding from Marshall for programs. I fought hard, and this year we got $8000,” they say. Although Ximena has now graduated, they hope Marshall will continue to improve trans and non-binary representation. 

“Being president of Marshall Pride has been the biggest privilege of my life. I had never been part of an LGBTQIAS+ community before, and to lead and provide for this intelligent, inspiring community has been life-changing,” they say.  

Ximena’s next move is to McKinsey, where they had an internship last summer. When attending the ROMBA Conference, Ximena met representatives of McKinsey and asked them for candid insights about the company’s diversity and inclusion policies. “I asked tough questions, as a non-binary person, because I have to,” they explain, “and if they didn’t know the answer, they found someone who did.” While Ximena appreciates the broad business perspective that McKinsey has provided them, and they have accepted a fulltime offer to begin there this summer, Ximena also fulfilled their creative side while interning at Juvee Productions, Viola Davis’s production company, during the academic year.  

Find your people, and when you do, build each other up. We are conditioned to think we can do this all alone — don’t fall into that trap. Do this together.

Although Ximena had initial doubts about an MBA experience – “I came into this thinking I’d be surrounded by golf bros,” – they have “found people who I could see myself in their experiences and they could see themselves in mine,” Ximena explains. Through their experiences with ROMBA, Forté, Consortium, and USC, Ximena says, “I have developed the courage to speak up. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without other people similar to me.” They advise others: “Find your people, and when you do, build each other up. We are conditioned to think we can do this all alone — don’t fall into that trap. Do this together. 

Jill Dannis
MBA Candidate: University of Michigan – Ross School of Business, Class of 2024
MS, Behavior, Education and Communication Candidate: University of Michigan – School of Environment and Sustainability, Class of 2024 

In Jill’s childhood home in San Mateo, California, her mom couldn’t have known that her choice of décor would have a lasting impact on her daughter. Or maybe that was her intention. Either way, the sign her mother hung up that said, “Do Good Anyway,” and her emphasis on being good to others, influenced Jill’s life. 

Another long-lasting influence came when she was an undergraduate at Loyola Marymount, as an NCAA Division 1 rower. “I didn’t realize how formative being a college athlete was. It influenced how I show up on a team and how I push myself,” she explains. 

An MBA offered resources that would be more far-reaching and allow me to tackle systemic issues better.

After graduating with a degree in Sociology, Jill worked in the non-profit sector – from providing healthcare access at Angel Flight West to helping LGBTQIAS+ communities at the Trevor Project and the Point Foundation to promoting inclusion at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. 

Feeling burned out in non-profit and wanting to make a bigger impact, although an MBA was not on Jill’s radar, the MBA seed was planted while she was at the Point Foundation. “I had a mentor who recommended that I look at business school,” she says. After attending a prospective student diversity weekend at UCLA, a lightbulb went off. “An MBA offered resources that would be more far-reaching and allow me to tackle systemic issues better,” she explains.

Before applying to MBA schools, Jill participated in Forté’s MBALaunch, which was formative. “I don’t think I would be here without it,” she says. “When I meet women thinking about business school, I say I got a degree in how to apply to business school through MBALaunch.” 

While in Michigan, Jill has demonstrated her commitment to the LGBTQIAS+ community as a ROMBA Fellow – one of two in her class at Ross – and as the outgoing co-president of Out for Business, a LGBTQIAS+ Club at Ross. Representing the LGBTQIAS+ community is critical, she explains, “especially right now with a record number of new anti- LGBTQIAS+ bills being introduced” and “when the community, and specifically the transgender community, is under attack.” She is most proud of an Out for Business event that raised $15,000 for a local LGBTQIAS+ community center in Ann Arbor. 

Jill will take her learnings from her leadership experiences at Ross and as a dual degree candidate – she is also studying for a MS in Behavior, Education & Communications at the University of Michigan’s School of Environment and Sustainability – when she returns this summer to Amazon Web Services (AWS). This is Jill’s second summer internship at AWS in a Human Resources rotational leadership program, and her focus will be corporate social responsibility and impact. 

Speaking of impact, when asked what experiences have most shaped her as a person, she cites people she has worked with who have helped her align her work with her personal values. 

“The people I look up to as mentors have found ways to operationalize impact in everything they do,” she explains. “I have tried to keep that at the forefront of what I do, too, and I always ask myself if something aligns for me ethically and if I can have an impact.” 

Brigette Goldenshtein
MBA: York University – Schulich School of Business, Class of 2023 

Brigette is accustomed to being first. In her family, she is a first-generation Canadian and first-generation university graduate. Her family immigrated to Toronto, Ontario over 40 years ago from the former Soviet Union, where, under communism, they did not receive an education. Despite a lack of education, Brigette’s mother wisely taught her to be independent and to shape her own future. 

“No one could have dreamt that I would go to a great school,” Brigette explains. Attending Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) – where she majored in Biology and minored in Psychology and French – was a significant moment for her family. “I felt I was not doing it just for myself, but for my whole family,” Brigette says. 

I wanted more credibility and to be taken seriously as a woman, and the MBA gets more respect.

Brigette initially thought she wanted to be a dentist but, after realizing medicine was not for her, she focused on the insurance business. “The insurance industry was stuck back in the 1900s,” she explains as the impetus to get a master’s degree in Management from Schulich. “I wanted people – especially with gender identity differences – to feel comfortable applying for insurance,” she says. 

After completing her Management degree in 2020, she found that being a woman in business presented challenges. “It’s hard to be a woman in business,” she says. “I wanted more credibility and to be taken seriously as a woman, and the MBA gets more respect.” 

Getting her MBA at Schulich, Brigette is grateful for both her Forté Fellowship and ROMBA Fellowship. Being part of ROMBA has given her a lifeline to a community of like-minded people. Being at business school, where “there aren’t a lot of people similar in nature to you,” she says, ROMBA “puts you in touch with people with similar values and mindsets.” She is honored to be a Forté Fellow because her desire, as she says, “in my heart and in my core is to be a strong female leader. It is time for women to have a seat at the table.” 

During the last two years, Brigette juggled being a full-time MBA student at Schulich while working full-time at the Canadian Automobile Dealers’ Association (CADA). At CADA, Brigette uses her French language skills to understand the needs of the association’s membership and plans marketing campaigns to promote its interests. 

While she doesn’t know what the future holds, Brigette is unruffled because she has learned that “no one has it all figured out,” she says, and she finds it pointless to “get upset when things go wrong.” The other professional lesson she has found valuable is not to be afraid to ask for help. “A career is a journey for expanding skills and growing as a person,” she explains. “Asking for help is the best way to know what you need to grow.” She recommends finding a mentor to ask for help without feeling pressure or judged. In fact, Brigette takes her advice a step further by offering to mentor anyone who needs a listening ear. “I want to be a resource for any women in business so that we see more women in business,” she explains. 

Hopefully, the stories of Ximena, Jill, and Brigette – as well as ethical businesses and communities such as ROMBA and Forté – give hope to LGBTQIAS+ business students, professionals, and their allies that they are not alone in their stance for equality.

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