April 17, 2019

Being true to yourself

One graduate’s journey toward self-acceptance and helping another
by Michael Ruderman ’03

Late nights in The Phillipian office don’t just bond you to your fellow editorial board members, they connect you to the legacy of the paper and to the editors who’ve come before and after. So, in 2012 when I met Alex Salton ’11 at a Palo Alto coffee shop and we talked about our time editing The Phillipian, we connected.

I was an MBA student at Stanford's Graduate School of Business and Alex was a Stanford undergrad. Our connections didn’t end there. Alex and I were both gay men and although only a sophomore, Alex had expressed an interest in working in finance. Having worked on Wall Street myself, I knew I could help.

Our coffee chat turned into a biweekly mentorship lunch. I had guidance to offer Alex and was eager to test out the coaching skills I was learning in business school. One of my first recommendations was that Alex attend the Out for Undergrad (O4U) Business Conference, a conference I had attended and felt was valuable to me as a burgeoning businessman who happens to be gay.

Founded in 2004, O4U is a nonprofit that helps high-achieving LGBTQ college students reach their full potential in challenging careers. Partnering with some of the world’s largest corporations, O4U helps students connect with potential employers through this industry-specific conference and covers the full cost of attendance and travel for students.

The truest sign of success is to nurture at the individual level. For Michael Ruderman ’03, mentoring a fellow Andover alumnus allowed him to embody the message of living authentically.

Although I’d worked on Wall Street during the summer before my senior year, I was still not sure how to bring my full self to the workplace. I'd come out as gay at Andover and was open at Brown, but not at my internships. I was too scared. I hadn’t met any openly LGBTQ individuals during these internships and I assumed it would hurt my career prospects to come out. I’d almost written off the business world when O4U entered my life.

Even though I was feeling nervous after my summer experience, I elected to go to the O4U conference in 2006. The organization promised the opportunity to meet young LGBTQ students interested in business—people just like me. The experience was transformational. Alongside hundreds of LGBTQ college students, I absorbed the message that it is essential to bring my authentic self to work. The days of closeting oneself to get to the top were over.

With the strength of O4U’s support, I was openly gay at my first job with McKinsey & Company. Being honest about my identity helped me thrive and build connections internally. This fact was brought to light in a study published in a 2011 Harvard Business Review article that stated people who bring their full selves to work are more likely to be promoted, form genuine connections, and remain with an organization longer.

I've returned to the O4U business conference each year since and I am now chair of the board of directors. I have a front-row seat to O4U’s powerful cycle of inspiration, mentorship, and leadership. And Alex is one such success story. I could see in him the same feelings I had: eagerness mingled with hesitation about coming out in the corporate world. Through attending the O4U conference and through our mentoring meetings, Alex felt equally transformed and ended up volunteering for the conference.

This past year he served as the head organizer of the conference—the largest one ever hosted—which raised more than $1 million for the organization: a first!

After the conference, Alex and I watched the students filing out of the auditorium with wide-eyed excitement. “How do I get to the break-out sessions?” asked a student wearing what I assumed was his very first business suit. “Down the hall and up the stairs,” Alex said. Watching this simple exchange, I realized that Alex, someone who once had looked to me for answers, now had the answers himself.

Michael Ruderman ’03 is chair of the board of O4U and a product marketing manager at Facebook. Alex Salton ’11 is a product manager at Harry's, Inc., a shaving company start-up.

Categories: Alumni, Magazine Online

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