Out of the corporate closet
As the first recipient of the Somewhere MBA LGBT+ Scholarship, Teale Failla is proud to be a leader in creating a business world where a diverse workforce is viewed as an asset.
When Teale Failla embarked upon her mission to uproot how business is done, she instantly felt like an outsider.
“I would go to these MBA fairs and felt I was unlike everyone,” says the film-maker and writer from New York. “It was very intimidating. I kept asking myself, do I really want to do this?”
The answer that always came back – fuelled by a potent mixture of clear-eyed purpose and gnawing frustration – was that she did.
The business world, she says, needs to see diversity, specifically around the LGBT+ community, as an asset. In many places, however, it is still considered a threat.
Teale has experienced this first hand. In one media job, a colleague who harassed her and several of her co-workers went unpunished. In another, a boss told her that she should “get out of her gay bubble”.
“Ultimately, you can’t be your best if you are treated less than other people,” she says. “All these things led me to think I would like to have a much larger impact than I’m having now.”
Ultimately, you can’t be your best if you are treated less than other people.
Which is how she found herself at MBA fairs – places where the business world can have a smothering uniformity of appearance and purpose – wondering where to start and questioning if change was even possible.
The University of Edinburgh Business School piqued her interest and then she heard about the Somewhere MBA LGBT+ Scholarship.
“That was the clinching factor,” she says. “When I saw this scholarship, it became about a lot more than just the money. It leapt out. This was tailored for me.”
The £10,000 scholarship was set up this year in collaboration with Somewhere, a social enterprise that aims to break down the barriers to LGBT+ inclusion in business.
For Teale, it signalled that “not only are we welcome, but we are valued”. It is the first LGBT+ postgraduate scholarship in Scotland and second only in the UK to Cambridge. Teale is the scholarship’s first recipient.
It is a vital development, says Somewhere founder Kathryn Pierce.
“The corporate closet is very real and very much alive,” she says. “Until boards and business spaces become far more openly and proudly diverse, and difference is valued as a strength rather than a threat, things will not change.
“I believe it is a function of higher education to embolden people to stay out of the closet, to live authentically and be supported enough to enter a heteronormative business world with confidence and pride.”
The scholarship’s aim is to do just that. Creating LGBT+ entrepreneurial role models – such as Teale – is key, as well as making business more representative of their societies.
This, according to Kathryn, will benefit everyone, from customers to shareholders.
“Put simply, the world isn’t white, straight and cisgender male, though the current power structures predominantly are,” she says.
“It’s quite clear to see that the greater the diversity of voices, the greater capacity we have to create and maintain a fairer world, which represents society as it actually is.
“Diversity in business is also smart business – consumers want to support more inclusive and ethical companies, and young people especially so. Arguably there is a commercial driver for better representation, as well as a moral one.”
Teale agrees: “The scholarship is a fantastic step and part of that change,” she says. “Business can be an absolute tool for good. We can turn this around and business schools can lead the charge.”
With Somewhere and the University’s Business School, Teale has found allies in her mission. Once she completes her year-long programme, she plans to work to increase visibility of LGBT+ in TV networks or production companies.
“I’d also like to write the lesbian version of The Young Ones,” she says. “I think the world needs that.”
The outsider has entered the building.