A look into Carlson’s LGBTQ student organization, Compass

The group works to bridge the gap between the business world and the LGBTQ community.

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Ray Shehadeh

The Carlson School of Management on Thursday, June 23.

by Madison Roth

Compass is an undergraduate student organization founded in 2016 that works to make the business world more inclusive of LGBTQ people in Minneapolis and promote diversity in the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

Executive director of Compass and fourth-year student Zach Nienhuis said it is important to have a student organization like this on campus that provides a safe environment for students who are part of the LGBTQ community.

Compass’ main purpose is to create networking and mentorship opportunities for LGBTQ students in the Carlson School and provide a space where students can learn and use their voice to advance their careers, according to Nienhuis.

Compass alumni event
On Nov. 17, Carlson held their 2022 annual Compass Alumni Reunion at the University’s McNamara Alumni Center.

The alumni event’s theme was “strength through inclusion.” Speakers at the event talked about their different experiences with inclusion in the business world.

Maitri Ajmera, president of the Carlson Business Board and a third-year student, spoke at the alumni event about how LGBTQ people can represent themselves well in the business world while remaining open and vulnerable.

The University has several initiatives involving the theme of inclusion, including all of the Carlson School student organizations coming together to talk about how to increase diversity within the school. Despite their progress, Ajmera said there is still more that can be done to make the University more inclusive by having more student organizations that reflect similar work to Compass.

“Carlson has a lot of work to do, so it’s important to have a student organization that promotes a space for inclusion and belonging,” Ajmera said.

Ryan Poehler, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion project manager at U.S. Bank and a member of the Carlson Alumni PRIDE Board, talked about how there is strength in being nervous about being a “minority in the business industry.”

In his speech, he used a quote from his mom to describe the main point of his speech: “Being slightly nervous means you care, and you’re alive, and you’re taking some kind of risk.”

He encouraged the audience to turn their nervousness being in the business world into finding a community, becoming more vulnerable and seeking their own voice as they navigate through their career.

LGBTQ in business in Minneapolis
According to a study from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report in 2022, men still outnumber women 3-to-1 in business ownership.

While LGBTQ women make up 2.3% of entry level employees in the workforce, they only represent 1.6% of managers and even smaller percentages of upper-level management. LGBTQ men in business hold 3.1% of entry level positions and 2.8% of management positions.

A University of California-Los Angeles report found nearly half of LGBTQ people have faced discrimination in the workplace at some point in their lives.

However, Nienhuis said Minneapolis is one of the friendliest LGBTQ communities for those who want to work in business. In 2020, the Carlson School was ranked 24th for best colleges for LGBTQ students.

“The Twin Cities, and Carlson in general, are really good about going beyond window dressing by putting in different networking resources for people who are a part of the LGBTQ community,” Nienhuis said.

Nienhuis said he is looking forward to seeing Compass continue to flourish as a student organization by promoting more Compass events and engaging with more students at the University.

“I didn’t know an organization like Compass existed until I joined Carlson as a junior, and knowing about it sooner would have gone a long way,” Nienhuis said. “We want to continue to expand the community that we have on campus and in the Twin Cities as well.”