MBA News: Transgender Students Breaking Ground in Business School

Business school culture may have a track record of being rather conservative, but according to an article in the New York Times this week, more and more MBA programs are beginning to see students like Danielle Piergallini, a Vanderbilt Owen alumna and a senior analyst at American Airlines who came out as transgender during graduate school.

Piergallini admits that a certain “bravado” among business school faculty and students can at times feel less than welcoming to somebody wanting to transition. In her own experience of coming out, however, she received an outpouring of positive responses from classmates, which took her by surprise.

As the Times observes, openly transgender students have only in recent years gained exposure within the elite MBA community. Harvard Business School’s first transgender student came out publicly in 2013, and many other programs are now pushing for greater inclusivity. Columbia Business School, for example, recently began hosting a twice-yearly training program to educate the community on pronoun use and gender fluidity. The school also introduced its first single-stall, gender-neutral bathroom this past September.

Still, the academic environment, like the workplace, remains challenging for anyone outside the traditionally masculine, heteronormative, and cisnormative business mainstream. Although the percentage of business school students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning tracked the national average in 2014 (at 3%), the Times notes that MBA programs still tend to be disproportionately cisgendered and male. Building support and finding allies can be especially difficult for transgender students.

“Discrimination against trans people is there,” admitted Piergallini, who writes a blog focused on life as a transgender woman. “But having an MBA and having a good one helps you avoid a lot of those barriers and obstacles.”

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