QS Diversity Scholarship for ESMT Winner: Speaking Up

Ryan Peluso, on the importance of speaking up against unprofessional behavior in the workplace

Ryan Peluso has been awarded the QS Diversity Scholarship for ESMT worth €13,000. The scholarship is awarded to an applicant who wishes to study a full-time, 12-month MBA program at ESMT. The essay topic was to 'describe an event from your professional life where you challenged mainstream thought in a group setting'. In his essay, Peluso discusses the fear of speaking up against the unprofessional behavior of clients he experienced while working at an accountancy firm, the importance of doing so, and the lack of support or concern offered by senior management. 

In his own words, "It shouldn’t have mattered that I was a member of the LGBT community as it had no impact on my work. Unfortunately, I was regularly exposed to clients who spouted vitriol about gay people. I knew I had to say something but was terrified I might be reprimanded, or worse, lose my job if I refused to continue working with this client." We asked Peluso to tell us more.   


Tell us a bit about your background

QS Diversity Scholarship for ESMT Winner: Ryan PelusoI grew up in Wethersfield, CT, a small town in the suburbs of Hartford. I have an Italian dad and an American mom. I am smack in the middle of a big family of three sisters and a brother. Growing up I spent a lot of time learning to cook and preferred the art classroom over playing sports.

I completed my undergraduate degree in accountancy at Providence College in Rhode Island. I am a certified public accountant focused on international tax within a wide range of sectors, including media and entertainment, private equity and real estate. My work has allowed me to connect with professionals from all over the world.

In my free time, I have held on to my love of cooking. But I also practice yoga and have spent the last year learning my way around a barbell at CrossFit.


What made you decide that speaking up outweighed the risk of being reprimanded?

I was very anxious about being reprimanded for speaking up, but I was also made very anxious by the behavior of my client. At first, I found it difficult because I began to question my self-worth and whether my complaining would be viewed as not being a team player. While I was terrified of the potential risk of being reprimanded if I brought the issue, I had come to realize that the current working environment was not positive or productive for me. I could either say nothing and move on to another job, or say something in the hope that my current situation would change, with the possibility that I might lose my job.


When you raised the issue in a team meeting, were you surprised that a number of your colleagues were experiencing similar situations?

While the situations my colleagues faced weren't identical to mine, I was surprised to hear that such behavior from clients was so prevalent. In hindsight, it is understandable, as the particular office fostered an environment that wasn't very respectful, but at the time I was worried that my colleagues might not understand the situation I was facing. If I had known prior to this that I wasn't the only one in such a position, I most likely would have spoken up sooner. 


Was it a hard decision to leave the firm when they continued to work with and not respond to the client’s poor behavior?

It wasn't a hard decision to make as I had come to the conclusion that I couldn't continue to work in such a negative atmosphere. However, it didn't make it any less disappointing that my needs as an employee were so easily dismissed and the poor behavior tolerated, even when management became aware of it. 


You moved to a firm that promoted diversity and valued the welfare of its employees. How did they do this?

Recently, I have been fortunate to work for employers that fostered diversity in a range of settings, from social events to professional networking, to volunteer and charity initiatives. Even though my sexuality isn't something that I discuss with my colleagues at work, having participated in coordinated events with them outside of work, such as the AIDS Walk in NYC, that supports LGBTQ people in need, helped me to feel supported and be more open within a professional context. The broader diversity networking events also enabled me to find out more about the needs and challenges of other minority groups outside of my own and be more cognizant of them.


What advice would you give to others who face discrimination or unprofessionalism in the workplace?

I was very concerned that people would just think that I was making a big fuss over nothing and I didn't want to come off as unprofessional or difficult. It was very helpful for me to sound out my issue with people I am close to outside of work to make sure that I was justified in my thinking before moving forward with making a complaint. I would strongly recommend that anyone in this situation finds an ally - whether that is a partner, a family member, a friend, or a close colleague, who can reassure and support you in a time that might seem scary and difficult.


What role do you feel business schools have in teaching ethics?

I think anyone in a leadership position has a role in promoting ethical practices. As business schools are leading a cohort of students in developing their careers, there is, naturally, the opportunity for them to support sustainable and ethical education. For me, that doesn't necessarily mean an academic ethics class, but offering course options such as Sustainable Finance, or promoting events that connect back to this theme. For example, ESMT recently held an open lecture on The Business Case for Diversity, with Pinterest's Head of Diversity, Candice Morgan. I think this is a great way for students to investigate these themes without feeling like they are being preached to.


What made you wanto to study an MBA?

I was ready to take on a new challenge and wanted to learn from a range of professional experiences while I decided what was the best next step for me and my career. Unfortunately, I missed out on the opportunity to study abroad while I was in college and was very interested in further and higher education in a different country or culture. I wanted a very hands-on learning experience that would help me to develop soft skills on top of a focus on strategic management, so after researching my options, an MBA seemed like the right choice.


Why did you choose ESMT?

I knew that I didn't want a very traditional school that relied heavily on areas like corporate finance, but rather somewhere that would be able to put things into a broader context and integrate training within real companies. As ESMT was founded by 25 leading international corporations like Daimler, E.ON and Deutsche Bank, I knew we would be pushed to think expansively and find solutions to business problems that extended beyond the classroom. As I mentioned before, I was extremely interested in a global, international school and as ESMT's 2017 class was 95% international, I knew I would get this experience I was looking for on its MBA program. I am hoping to graduate with a diverse set of skills and be a leader who thinks about business impact on a global scale, so ESMT's focus on sustainability and technology were two components of the educational experience that really drew me to the program.


What are your career plans for the future?

After ESMT, I plan to join an organization that uses technology to build a better future for everyone in a role that allows me to be involved in constructing a business's strategy to maximize social impact.  

Written by Phil Cottrell

Phil is the editor of TopMBA.com and has a breadth of editorial and digital marketing experience. He has worked across a variety of industries from e-commerce and commercial real estate to managing all content for a C-suite careers site aimed at UK and US professionals.

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