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Diversity conference addresses contemporary issues

Katlyn Smith | Monday, February 8, 2010

The third annual Notre Dame Diversity Conference examined current hot topics in business ranging from the gender gap to Latino markets Friday and Saturday at the Mendoza College of Business.

The conference, sponsored by the MBA program, featured a case competition, panel discussions and addresses by business leaders.

Second-year MBA student and Diversity Conference co-chair Trea Savage said this year’s theme, “Diversity and the Bottom Line: What Diversity Means to You,” developed from a need to relate diversity to all students.

“Last year’s theme was ‘Celebrating Differences While Achieving a Common Goal,’ and a lot of the speakers spoke on the struggles that minorities have in the workplace,” Savage said. “I got feedback from a lot of my classmates who were Caucasian or majority students, and they didn’t feel like it resonated with them and I’m a firm believer that diversity includes all people, not just minorities.”

Savage also wanted to convey how diversity impacts a business’ bottom line.

“I knew as an MBA student, that diversity was important to a business,” Savage said. “We all believe that a larger talent pool brings creativity [and] brings better decision-making, and so we really wanted to translate that message.”

Patrick Perrella, director of MBA Career Development and faculty advisor to the event, said this year’s conference reflected a change in how businesses operate.

“Diversity was really thought of as affirmative action hiring, and ‘we really need to have representation from these different ethnic groups in our office,'” Perrella said. “It’s really moved on from that.”

“People are thinking about how diversity enriches a business, how it helps business reach their customers better, and reach a wider group of customers,” he said.

Perrella said the conference has evolved from its inception two years ago.

“The conference is growing, it’s starting to get recognized and we have panelists and keynote speakers flying in from all over the country because they want to be part of it,” he said.

Some 150 students, faculty, alumni and community members registered for the event. Besides a growth in attendance, Perrella said multiple corporations lent their support, including Ernst & Young, General Electric and Intel.

The conference kicked off with an MBA case competition and awards presentation to the winning team in the Notre Dame Stadium press box. Teams of four from Notre Dame and Indiana University received a diversity case involving Pepsi on Jan. 28 and delivered their solution Friday.

Notre Dame MBA students Evva Comans, Josh Miller, Hilarree Wong and Sanak Mishra won the $2,000 prize.

Friday’s events concluded with a keynote address by Kathy Hannan, National Managing Parnter for Diversity and Corporate Social Responsibility at KPMG.

Other speakers included Beverly McDonald, Director of Human Resources at Bosch, and Patrick Finneran, Notre Dame alum and CEO of Sabreliner Corp.

Perrella said the assortment of industries at the conference provided attendees a unique experience.

“Where else are you going to get the Environmental Defense Fund and Exxon sitting at the same table and agreeing about something? There are some really neat interactions that you won’t find elsewhere,” he said.

Junior Nicole Ruiz said the speakers’ personal reflections and real-life experiences complimented her academic work.

“One of things that I would like to see in the future is more of these types of speakers going to classrooms to talk because some of things that they mentioned were so integral to what you’re learning.”

Looking to the future, freshman Justin Asuncion, hoped to see greater undergraduate involvement.

“You have all these MBA students, but you really want to hit this message early on,” he said.