Andrew Jakubowski majored in biology and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, and credits Helen Leis, a partner at Oliver Wyman Management Consulting, for helping them get comfortable as a queer person in the business workplace.
“Helen was a really confident, comfortable, and honest voice among the partnership team,” recalls Jakubowski, who enrolled at Stanford GSB after five years as a consultant. “For me she was a role model in her willingness to speak up for things she felt were right or important for herself or the business group or other individuals with whom she was close. She kept it human in a high-stress, high-impact business setting and was a powerful example of good championship on the part of a senior leader. Her willingness to do that for me was a huge asset in my development and well-being as a member of the team and as a person.”
Jakubowski says Leis will continue to inspire them as they pursue their MBA and resume their professional career after their planned graduation this summer.
Do you see yourself specializing in diversity and inclusion (D&I) as a business consultant?
I’m incredibly passionate about diversity and inclusion work. There are days when I want it to be my full-time commitment, whether consulting around D&I, doing strategy work at the industry level, or taking a narrower approach to it. But, I also really enjoy working on more traditional aspects of business. I know D&I will be part of my professional and personal life in the future, but I don’t think it will be the central focus.
You wear nail polish as an emblem of your queerness and say it helps signal to others important information about who you are. Why is that important to communicate in a business environment?
These are parts of our identities we carry with us wherever we go. Whether it’s a workplace or non-workplace, we are who we are. We’re individuals, not monolithic parts of minority or majority groups. In the workplace, especially when you’re working on things like innovation and strategy or anything multicultural, diversity is about fostering individual views and capabilities. It’s not enough to just line up people who check different boxes. Even within a community that appears homogenous, you can find incredible diversity if you create a space where people can show up with their differing values, beliefs, and identities beneath the surface.
So you don’t draw a line between one’s personal and professional lives?
For me, it’s a very thin line. For years I lived with the tension of not being able to show up as my authentic self, not feeling like I was seen as an individual, and those who did know I was queer sometimes just assumed I was stuck in a category. That creates a tension that’s detrimental to productivity and overall happiness. Individuality is the next wave of thinking in D&I — so you’re not just creating opportunities for certain groups but allowing people across and within categories to feel comfortable engaging as their unique selves.
Don’t most people try to maintain a distance between their professional and personal lives?
There are two different parts to that question. First, it’s important for people to feel that if they want to show up as their full selves, they have that opportunity. If you’re constantly worried about how you’re being perceived, you’re investing mental capacity on that rather than the work. And you’re more likely to feel accepted at an organization and have a positive experience if you have the freedom to show up as your full self.
And the second part?
Some people would rather keep their private life private, and I respect that. I’ve worked in places where one person is wide open about their life while someone sitting a few feet away is extremely private about theirs. One is not better than the other. My hope is that both of those people feel they can share to whatever degree they’re comfortable and be happy in the same spaces. If people are in an environment where they don’t feel it’s safe to disclose something, or where they feel obligated to disclose more than they want to, then the organization needs to reconsider whether it’s doing enough to encourage its employees to be authentic and their best selves in the workplace.
Are most corporations succeeding or failing with diversity and inclusion initiatives?
A lot of the major multinationals are doing truly incredible work around diversity and inclusion. That work should be celebrated. But in some cases, the way they talk about their D&I efforts can be a misleading reflection of the reality. With many companies, especially large ones, there’s still much to be done. What’s really interesting is the emergence of D&I conversations, initiatives, and collectives within small organizations and startups. These days, people starting new businesses seem to be addressing D&I issues much earlier in the process.
You spent nearly five years as a management consultant at Wyman before coming back to grad school. What did you learn during those years that convinced you an MBA was important?
I could see that an MBA could be used as a tool that will allow me to capitalize on opportunities for innovating for good. I also realized that there would be value in learning the softer skills of business — things like emotional intelligence, team management, and interacting with people of different backgrounds and at different levels. Those skills are absolutely invaluable in harnessing the full potential of a team.
Along with Mexican food, urban exploration, and podcasts, you list “snail mail” among your interests. Explain.
We talk about bursts of joy in the consumer experience. There’s something about writing and sending and receiving letters — the idea that the words were important enough to put down on paper and not just send via text or email — that gives me that burst of joy. I have a lot of random parchment that I enjoy sending. I also enjoy finding things in the mail for myself. Very simple, very silly. But those little things are the best parts of life.
Photos by Kiefer Hickman