By Harmesh Bhambra ‘16
The 17th annual ROMBA conference for the LGBT MBA community was held in Chicago from October 8 to 10. Kati Karottki, a second-year MBA student and a co-chair of OUTreach at Booth, was part of the Chicago conference organizing committee.
[Harmesh Bhambra]: What is ROMBA?
[Kati Karottki]: ROMBA stands for Reaching Out MBA. It is an organization that educates, inspires, and connects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) MBA students across business schools in the U.S. and abroad. The organization is anchored largely by, and is best known for, the annual ROMBA conference, which attracted 1,400+ attendees this past October. ROMBA, however, is engaged in so much more, such as Fellowships for students (Chicago Booth backs the ROMBA Fellows program) and Career Treks.
[HB]: The ROMBA conference was held in Chicago this year?
[KK]: Yes. Last year the conference was hosted in San Francisco and a group of us, knowing that it would be in Chicago this year, pulled together -- four Boothies, two from Kellogg and two from Cornell to form a bid team that would eventually serve as the organizing committee. We chose our theme to be ‘Intersections of Diversity’. The thinking being that we get caught up in talking about communities in silos or isolating select topics when in fact communities and conversations are far more fluid in nature.
[HB]: What was the goal of the conference?
[KK]: With the conference we tried to bring the organization's objective -- ‘educate, inspire and connect’ -- to life by providing ample networking opportunities; having experts share content to inspire young adults to pursue a unique career path; and fostering panel discussions and programming to inform, and mobilize people about the issues young professionals face today.
[HB]: What was your specific involvement in the event?
[KK]: I led the development of the women’s content and kicked off the session titled, ‘(Run) Like a Girl’, interviewing Kate Fagan (ESPN writer) and senior executives. The discussion centered on how it became acceptable to reference girls in a demeaning manner, and how strong female role models who defy negative perceptions helped change that conversation -- empowering the current and next generation of young women to view themselves in a more positive manner and impacting their confidence early on. Inspired by my Booth experience with NVC, I also led the Entrepreneurship and VC content.
[HB]: What was most memorable about the conference?
[KK]: There were a handful of great moments. But the consensus was that Laverne Cox’s speech brought down the house. I think many people expected her 60 minute speech to focus largely on her fame as a TV star (Sophia Burset from Netflix’s Orange is the New Black) through the lens of a proud, transwoman of color. The truth was she spent all of two minutes on her stardom. Instead she spoke deeply about her childhood and the challenges she faced, and the opportunities she gained by moving to NYC and pursuing her passion of dance. And it was that unique and very authentic story that resonated with people in the audience on so many different levels.
[HB]: What were your key takeaways?
[KK]: First off, everyone on the organizing team wanted not only to have an impact on the community of today but also to ensure that the ROMBA legacy continues. Second, it was very affirming to have executives on our panels, sponsors and most importantly current MBAs and perspectives share their positive feedback and enthusiasm for the weekend. Finally, the four of us from Booth couldn’t have been more proud to have played a role in such an event being hosted in Chicago. We are very thankful to the Chicago community and Booth alumni for their support. In post event wrap-up, the Chicago Booth community had the highest turnout among MBA programs, and that is a tribute to the current and growing community of LGBT students and alumni who simply continue to ‘pay it forward’.
Harmesh is News Editor for Chicago Business