Delivered by IE Business School students, LGBT+@Work is the longest-running conference of its kind in Europe. The conference has grown from a small internal initiative to a global event reaching up to 2,000 participants during the pandemic.
Zayne Imam, Engagement Officer, IE Business School
Call to Action
In 2006, a group of predominately Spanish MBA students at IE Business School approached the school management about working together to address the issue of the significant number of Spanish professionals who do not feel comfortable coming out of the closet in the private sector in Spain. The workplace environment in Spain seemed misaligned with the political and social environment, seeing as Spain was one of the first countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005.
While the country had moved forward—often outpacing its peers—the Spanish private sector seemed to be hamstrung by old legacies, fostering internal work cultures that made it difficult, if not impossible, for the LGBT+ community to bring their full selves to work. Even today, though there has been some improvement over the years, only 38 percent of LGBT+ individuals feel comfortable being out at work. The LGBT+@Work conference was formulated initially as a space to ensure IE students returning to the workplace were connected to leaders and community members who had walked the path before them and could guide them through the process. And as the conference grew, additional tools and community employee resource groups (ERGs) across Spain and Europe were created and/or better equipped with resources through our network. This allowed LGBTQ+ identifying individuals access to more support within the workplace throughout Spain.
LGBT+@Work is truly a result of student-led activism that has been passed forward from one generation of LGBT+ students at IE Business School to the next—each time with the new cohort adding more to the movement and building on the foundation they inherited.
Up until 2016, LGBT+@Work was a conference mainly for the IE community and a range of European business leaders. The next big evolution of the conference came in 2017, when Madrid hosted World Pride. This offered IE University and IE Out and Allies Club the opportunity to debut the conference on the world stage, inviting global participation and a range of global leaders from business, activist organizations, and the arts to share their experiences. That year, LGBT+@Work grew to become the third-largest LGBT+ conference of its type in the world.
The conference and support from the IE Foundation helped foster partnerships with organizations like REDI, the first inter-business diversity and inclusion (D&I) network in Spain. This continued success was built upon, creating an international spin-off in New York City, providing training for ERGs, and supporting local community projects, such as Fundación Eddy-G, which provides shelter to victims of LGBT-phobia. After 13 years of continuous growth, the conference faced its biggest challenge: the pandemic. Determined not to cancel the event, the students took the conference online. No one could have predicted the conference exploding to a truly global reach with more than 2,000 participants tuning in from all over the world.
In June 2022 IE University will mark the 16th edition of LGBT+@Work. IE University sees the true impact through the immeasurable number of individuals, both inside and outside the IE Out and Allies community, who have felt more comfortable bringing their full selves to work each day. There have been countless collaborations between our students, our alumni, and other community members who have been empowered to take resources and inspiration into their respective organizations and create formal ERGs, and/or simple support groups of friends with whom to navigate the unique challenges that the LGBT+ community faces.
We have been lucky enough to collaborate with some of the biggest global brands, like Google and McKinsey & Company. We have also given local players in the private sector—especially here in Spain—a direct line to D&I policymakers in their industry and beyond.
This network has shown us that when it comes to D&I, sharing knowledge and helping one another is a rising tide that lifts us all. This philosophy directly extends to IE University, which makes efforts to include and invite as many business schools as possible to attend and participate in this conference. While this started as a support structure for graduating IE Business School MBA students, it has grown into a fully-fledged international support network.