Stanford’s New Leadership Boot Camp Helps LGBT Professionals Climb The Corporate Ladder

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business will hold weeklong sessions to increase the leadership skills of LGBT managers.

Stanford’s New Leadership Boot Camp Helps LGBT Professionals Climb The Corporate Ladder
[Photo: Flickr user Drew Tarvin]

The glass ceiling isn’t something that only women bump up against. We’ve reported on others, such as the particularly thick one in tech that keeps Asian-Americans out of the C-suite, even though they’re represented among the ranks. There’s another for the LGBT community. To help crack through, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business is starting a leadership program for LGBT professionals who aspire to executive-level positions.


The Wall Street Journal reports that the first of its kind LGBT Executive Leadership Program will begin in late July. There are 50 slots in the program that will each cost $12,000 for the week. The faculty says that individuals can apply, or a company can nominate a candidate who has at least a decade of professional experience and five years of management experience.

Participants will undergo personal leadership assessments and get management training—a condensed version of the school’s popular “Acting With Power” course, as well as instruction in design thinking, according to the program’s directors, professor Sarah Soule and lecturer Thomas Wurster. The course will also address topics like authentic leadership and being open about sexuality at work, often thorny workplace issues for gay managers.

Despite the progress that’s been made regarding marriage equality, the workplace isn’t always encouraging to LGBT employees. Gay and lesbian employees can still be fired for their sexuality in 29 states. Those who are transgender aren’t protected in 32 states. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has languished in Congress for more than 20 years, most recently when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stalled it because he felt it would be “the basis for frivolous lawsuits.” Earlier this year, Republican Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas issued an executive order that removed discrimination protections for state employees.

That may be part of the reason LGBT professionals haven’t historically risen to leadership positions in the same numbers as heterosexuals. Apple CEO Tim Cook is one of the very few openly gay C-Suite executives, and he did not publicly disclose his sexual orientation until 2014, after he’d been promoted to the top spot. Martine Rothblatt, founder of United Therapeutics and previously a founder of Sirius radio, is transgender, and her identity was only revealed when she was found to be among the highest paid female CEOs in America. More recently, longstanding LGBT advocate Jeffery Siminoff was hired by Twitter to head its diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Some companies that are investing in creating more diverse workforces have even formed a global coalition to ensure the inclusion of LGBT employees. Among the founding members: Google, IBM, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Accenture, CA Technologies, Destination Weddings Travel Group, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Replacements, Ltd., and Symantec.

Having the chance to network with other LGBT professionals in a program like Stanford’s can be a boon to career success, according to Joel Simkhai, CEO of Grindr, who told the Wall Street Journal that when he was coming out 20 years ago, “There weren’t any openly gay business executives as role models.”

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a business journalist writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, commerce, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.