LGBTQ VETERANS AS MBAS: ROB PARSLEY – KELLOGG ’16
Tell us a bit about your background, prior work experience and career interests
I grew up in the south as the son of a minister, and I think that upbringing played a significant part of why I eventually ended up in the military. My family always functioned with a service-minded paradigm. That first led me to study nursing, and, after college, to accept a commission as an officer in the U.S. Army. I worked as an Army nurse for several years in Hawaii before deploying to Afghanistan with a medical evacuation unit. After that, I moved to the East Coast and managed a program for the Army Nurse Corps in ROTC. After getting out of the military, I came to Kellogg and have been having the time of my life. I’m still very interested in healthcare, and, while I haven’t accepted a job yet, I’ll likely end up doing something with strategy and operations in that space.
What made you decide to shift from serving your country to the business world? Were you out as you went through the business school application process?
In the first few months of my career in the Army, a mentor made an off the cuff comment to me about the importance of clinical leaders understanding the business of healthcare. The significance of that statement didn’t resonate much at the time, but the longer I served, the more it made sense. I think there is so much value to be created when business leaders in healthcare can approach problems with a clinical frame of reference. I was someone that literally had zero business training (in fact, I don’t think I ever even read the WSJ or watched CNBC until I started to seriously consider business school), so educating myself increasingly became a priority.
A lot of people in the military face a major decision point about their future somewhere around the 7-8 year mark, which is where I was at the time. At a certain point, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to leave when you can retire at 20 years, but I wasn’t ready to make that commitment yet. I was serving when DADT was repealed, and had been very closeted to virtually everyone in my life, even my family. There was something very appealing about the idea of starting a new chapter and not having to pretend to be someone else from day one. Being out in the business school application process, and as a member of the Kellogg community, was very important to me and I didn’t hesitate to make that choice.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience as being a member of the LGBTQ community while serving your country. How did DADT impact you (if at all) during your experience? How did culture change after it’s repeal?
I wasn’t out for most of my time in the military, but that had less to do with DADT than it had to do with me. I hadn’t even really come out to myself when I joined the Army and I think, on some level, I thought that I might be able to run away from my sexuality as a soldier. DADT was a great excuse, I told myself, to not have to address some of the questions I had about myself. The repeal was so significant for me not because it allowed me to come out to the world, but because it forced me to come out to myself. I think the biggest story about the change of culture was that there was no story.
The comment has been made that as the US Armed Forces go [in terms of policy] so goes the rest of the nation. Do you think the repeal of DADT set us up for a lot of the progress we’ve been seeing in terms of national LGBTQ issues over the past 3 years?
I think so. In the WWII era, over 10% of the country was actively serving in the military, but today only about 0.5% population is serving and less than 10% ever has served, so its interesting to consider how much cultural clout the military commands. Still, there is tremendous respect for service members, and there is something to the idea that if an organization that has a stereotypically cis male heterosexual “macho” culture can make important policy changes, the rest of the country should follow suit. The military does move slow with some of these issues, but I’m optimistic about the future. Some people don’t realize that even after the repeal of DADT, trans people are still barred from serving openly in the military, but Secretary Carter is working hard to address this, and I think we will see new policies soon.
Do you think veterans bring something extra to the MBA experience? What about LGBTQ MBAs?
Absolutely! Compared to our peer set, veterans are often times some of the few business students that have actually led and managed people. Most of us have been in positions where we have had to make tough judgment calls with limited information and have had to be responsible for the lives of others. While veterans don’t always have some of the technical business acumen that others students do, these insights are invaluable in the classroom.
LGBTQ students also have a unique perspective. As a group of people that have universally been “other” at some point in life, LGBTQ people are experienced with looking at the world from a different vantage point. Being willing and able to challenge the status quo is crucial not only to the learning process, but also to success in the business world.
What advice do you have for LGBTQs currently serving their country that might one day consider going to graduate school of an MBA or business masters degree?
Go for it. You’ve had to take risks in the past, and transitioning out of uniform is certainly a major change, but there is a world of untapped possibility out there of which you are uniquely positioned to take hold.