Laws and judgements are not enough for a societal transformation — scholars and thinkers agree on this. But no one seems to really know what the right ‘next step’ is when we talk about transformation. But Stanford University’s LGBTQ Executive Leadership Programme seems like the sensible next step.
The exclusive programme for LGBTQ individuals is now in its third year and has already spawned one of the school’s most active alumni networking groups and inspired programmes in other countries. The curriculum combines conventional management education subjects, such as design thinking and leading teams, with those more aimed at fostering inclusion, such as the “authentic leadership” lesson, in which students are coached to be their “genuine self” in the workplace. In the design thinking class, a method of thinking innovatively in small teams is taught as part of many leadership courses, but in this context, it’s focused on how students can strengthen LGBT networks within and between organisations. The learning process is through a combination of classroom teaching, group discussions, team exercises and personal assessment.
The curriculum mainly includes executive presence for the LGBTQ leader and introduction to design thinking. Mid to senior-level executives with a minimum of 10 years of professional experience and five years of management experience are eligible for the course. Executives with significant levels of managerial responsibility — from any company, any industry and any country — can apply.
One of the main differences that Deepthi Rao, an alumnus of Stanford Graduate School of Business, noticed after she joined the course, was that she became a more vocal and active participant on Facebook and outside of it for LGBTQ related causes. “It wasn’t that I was hiding before, but this course made me more courageous. I am in the Bay Area where I work for Facebook. So, I am essentially in the gay Mecca of the world,” says Deepthi. “I couldn’t have asked for something better in terms of being in a more open and inclusive environment. Despite that, if I was not very sure if I should be vocal, I can imagine how someone in India could be feeling. Being your authentic self and bringing your whole self to work is energising and liberating.”
The network encourages the students to form smaller networks to constantly motivate each other. “We are celebrating the things that happen in our country. We met people from all over the world — Brazil, Australia and India. Now, we are more aware of what’s happening in other countries, their culture and more,” says Deepthi.
The curriculum says that it looks at management through the lens of identity. But it’s not directly LGBTQ focused. “I think it was intentional because LGBTQ is your identity, but that doesn’t change the actual principles of management. So, maybe going in I was thinking it was more of a direct ‘how to be an LGBTQ leader’ sort of a course, but it was more of ‘let’s learn how to be a good leader, while also keeping into consideration your authentic identity’, and exploring some of those nuances,” Deepthi adds. But the course does not have a cultural component that talks about the problems people working in places like India face. “I think there were some discussions like the marginalisation of LGBTQ employees, but there was nothing India focused at all. That might be something that should definitely be explored and added to the curriculum especially if they are planning to have more Indian students coming,” explains Deepthi, “I think growing up in India is different as your family is a big part of your life and people are more close-knit with their relatives and also the society has more of a say in your life. That would need to be augmented in the course.”