The three-day symposium took place as part of Texas Tech’s Diversity Week.
The Jerry S. Rawls College of Business held the Seventh Annual Rawls Diversity Symposium on March 23-25. The theme of the symposium, sponsored by PwC, was “Diversity Drives Business” and provided an opportunity for attendees to learn about the positive effects of diversity, both economically and socially, from experts in academia and the workforce.
Margaret L. Williams, dean of Rawls College, provided opening remarks for the symposium. In those remarks, she stressed the importance of diversity within Rawls College and the business community at large.
“As a college, we've committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive environment, in which to work, study, and learn,” said Williams. “And this is our business. Something we need to focus on.”
Day 1 – Keynote Speaker and Student Panel
The first official session featured a fireside chat between Andrea Romi, associate professor of accounting, and the symposium's keynote speaker Mimi Crume Sterling, CEO of The Family Place.
Crume Sterling, who was Vice President of Environmental Social Governance and Belonging at Neiman Marcus Group before joining The Family Place, frequently stressed the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) from both the employer and the employee's points of views.
“If a company isn't thinking about DE&I, you are not a modern company. Period,” said Crume Sterling. “If [students] are not thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, they are going to be behind. It's a critical skillset to your future careers.”
Crume Sterling frequently spoke directly to the students in attendance and ended with tangible advice for impacting DE&I initiatives within the workplace.
“Being a diversity advocate means challenging the status quo, in a respective way,” said Crume Sterling. “You all speaking up and championing diverse perspectives is important.”
After the Crume Sterling's and Romi's conversation, six students participated in a panel discussion: Roque Alaniz, a finance major; Andrew Glore, an industrial engineering major; Britney Juarez, a management major; Olivia Ofoegbu, a finance major; Mili Patel, a supply chain management major; and Brady Wootton, a finance major.
The panel was moderated by Jeremy Richardson, an accounting doctoral student, and Lauren Rukasuwan, a recent doctoral graduate from the accounting program.
“The session was about giving space and opportunity to students to express their thoughts and opinions about DE&I issues as it relates to their current experience as students and future as leaders in business,” said Richardson. “Having students really interested in the best ways to support each other and move DE&I forward was really encouraging and says a lot about the future for Rawls and the business community.”
The student panel touched on several topics including the importance of advisors and faculty who look like them and how student organizations often fill in some of the DE&I gaps that are present within the institution.
For Rukasuwan, seeing students focus on a human point of view rather than business motives really stood out, especially when the students talked about their future, post Texas Tech University. Many of the panelists were concerned that an eventual work environment may not be welcoming to them based simply off of their physical appearance or way in which they identify. The students wanted the attendees to know that this fear was something they were very aware of.
“I think the most important takeaway for me is the very valid and real fear that students have when thinking about entering a professional role after graduation” said Rukasuwan. “At this moment, I'm not sure what the best way to temper that fear is, but it will be something I focus on during my future time as a professor.”
Day 2 – Inclusive Leadership and Belonging Training and Employer Panel
The second evening of the symposium started with a packed house for PwC's Inclusive Leadership and Belonging Training for students.
Sammy Miller, Partner at PWC, began the training session with an ice-breaker activity. For each phrase Miller said, participants would stand if the phrase applied to them and sit if it did not. This not only served to get every student to participate, but it also visually showed the unique experiences and perspectives of every student in the room.
After setting some ground rules for discussing issues of diversity, Miller gave time for each round table to discuss biases they don't often consider, such as physical ability, religion, or accents.
Miller provided students with some advice for navigating biases after the discussion.
“Our brains take shortcuts all the time,” said Miller. “We have to slow the process down and recognize what's happening.”
Following the PwC training, five representatives from different companies participated in the employer panel: Rico Stephens from Dell, Marcus Everett from Enterprise Holdings Inc., Justin Sims from ConocoPhillips, Derek Davis from Geico, and Sammy Miller from PwC.
The employer panel was moderated by Claudia Cogliser, professor of management, and Jacob Gordon, assistant director of the Georgie G. Snyder Center for Business Communication.
The panel discussed topics ranging from DE&I initiatives their companies have taken over the years, the role of intentionality with effective DE&I practice, and how students and employees can bring their “whole selves” to work.
Day 3 – Research Presentations
The Rawls Diversity Symposium wrapped up with two research presentations from Christy Nittrouer, assistant professor of management, and Devin Shankthikumar, associate professor of accounting at the University of California, Irvine.
Shanthikumar's presentation, titled “Research with Purpose,” discussed ways academics could work in their area of expertise and ask purposeful questions regarding DE&I. Shanthikumar's strategy for researching potentially controversial topics boiled down to two key steps.
“First, understand the controversy,” said Shanthikumar. “Next, you need to anchor everything on your existing expertise.”
Nittrouer's presentation, titled “What is your Why? Allyship and Reducing Discrimination,” furthered many of the talking points from Shanthikumar's presentation. Nittrouer wanted attendees to think more about why they were interested in researching DE&I issues within their field of study and how that could impact what or how they research.
Nittrouer's PowerPoint presentation featured closed captioning, and she was quick to explain how that simple act demonstrated her presentation's main idea.
“I am a stickler for universal design,” said Nittrouer, “so I'm insistent on giving presentation with closed captioning. Disability is a big research interest of mine, so I'm trying to model that here.”
Shanthikumar's and Nittrouer's presentations echoed the concept of intentionality heard throughout the Rawls Diversity Symposium. When it comes to issues of DE&I, there can be no change without intentionality.