Back in 2015, at the age of 43 I decided to return to higher education, and enrolled part-time on the Master of Enterprise (MEnt) research postgraduate course at the Alliance Manchester Business School, where I would end up graduating at 46, exactly twice the age I was when I first did so as a languages undergraduate at the University of Sheffield.
The catalyst for my return was having experienced a life-changing event in November 2014, when known then as Kath Fox, the co-Chair of Manchester’s LGBT+ choir, I produced an award-winning cultural campaign (Safe to Sing) in response to a homophobic attack on Manchester’s trams. The response to the event was wide-ranging and heartfelt, and as we took to the trams in protest on a rainy November night, I realised that campaigning for greater everyday LGBT+ visibility was part of my authentic life.
As part of the MEnt research degree, I looked for under-representation of LGBT+ people in different spheres of life. My primary research in 2017 focused on LGBT+ entrepreneurs and their experiences, I discovered that as an LGBT+ person, bringing your whole self to work was a far more daunting prospect for people with their own businesses, than was perhaps the case for people within existing organisations as employees, although this also sadly continues to be an issue. As many as 1 in 5 LGBT+ people in the UK — 1 in 6 in Scotland — experience marginalisation and negative conduct, 35% remain closeted at work, and nearly a fifth of LGBT+ employees (18%) face negativity from colleagues as a result of their identity (Stonewall, 2018).
I realised that campaigning for greater everyday LGBT+ visibility was part of my authentic life.
My research study (which forms the basis for a new book to be published by Emerald) consulted with a diverse group of LGBT+ entrepreneurs, revealing first-hand the challenges and experiences of reconciling a mainstream business world with an authentic LGBT+ identity. It also revealed a lack of LGBT+ entrepreneurial role models, a lack of community-specific enterprise support for LGBT+ people wanting to start their own businesses, and a stark difference in the career-based experiences for entrepreneurs with career histories in the public sector versus the private sector. The area of LGBT+ entrepreneurship is very under-researched in academia, and my findings, while small-scale, were enough to create a case for approaching a project partner to design and deliver a new way of disrupting the inherent homophobia in business.
In 2017, I took the decision to relocate to Edinburgh, attracted to Scotland’s progressive politics and its impressive record on LGBTI inclusion — Scotland is a world leader on LGBTI-inclusive education, and second only to Malta for LGBTI rights. Through Louise Arnold at Interface, I was introduced to the University of Edinburgh Business School MBA team, and together, over a period of many months, we devised a way to both support minority entrepreneurship as a viable career choice, but also, and crucially, to acknowledge the barriers LGBT+ business people face every day and to actively disrupt those barriers, especially given 62% of graduates go back into the closet when they leave university and start work (Stonewall, 2016).
The result so far is three new Masters diversity scholarships, with the new £10,000 Somewhere EDI MBA LGBT+ Scholarship as the flagship, in partnership with us, with Somewhere EDI providing recruitment and promotion assistance, and most importantly mentorship of the chosen candidate.
The project was launched by The Princess Royal in February, as part of the University of Edinburgh Business School centenary celebrations and to mark 50 years since the founding of the global LGBT+ rights movement.
“This initiative is ground breaking, as it is proactive, disruptive and progressive.”
This type of project is the first home-grown initiative of its kind, supporting all UK, EU and international students identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBT+) or as LGBT+ community allies. The MBA and MSc initiatives are also a first for Scotland (and second only in the UK to the MBA at Cambridge University). Applications for the scholarships are now open, and candidates have until 10th May to apply. For the Somewhere EDI MBA LGBT+ Scholarship application details, visit the University of Edinburgh Business School.
This initiative is ground breaking, as it is proactive, disruptive and progressive. It acknowledges the power of the Business School as an agent of change, existing not only to help shape the business leaders of the future, but in widening participation and leading on diversity, by playing a more active role in removing chronic barriers to minority people reaching their full potential. The Somewhere EDI MBA LGBT+ Scholarship publicly acknowledges the value of collaborating with authentic community organisations, and in facing the reality of ongoing discrimination against LGBT+ people, bold and innovative projects like this mean that little by little, LGBT+ people can begin to bring their whole selves to work, living and working authentically, enjoying the freedom to be themselves and be the agents of their own destiny. I for one cannot wait to see the outcome and spend time with my new Mentee.
Photo credit: Jo Tennant Photography