This Alum Is Leading the Powerful Michigan Ross Black Business Alumni Association, Creating Impactful Connections and Giving Back to Students
January 28, 2022
By Bridget Vis
As president of the Black Business Alumni Association at the Ross School of Business, Kendra Jackson, MBA ’12, is able to witness the strength of the Michigan Ross Black alumni network firsthand.
From reaching out to fellow Black alumni to help navigate career advancement to mobilizing BBAA members to make a difference in the lives of current and future Black students at Ross, Jackson sees the community as a constant resource that she can rely on – both on a personal level and to achieve the association’s goals.
Moreover, Jackson has been extremely successful in leading BBAA since becoming president two years ago, fostering an engaged membership base and serving as an important connection between Michigan Ross and its Black alumni. She also continues to be an impactful voice for the Black community at school and beyond.
From young advocate of the Black community to Michigan Ross MBA
Jackson found her voice as an advocate for the Black community at a young age. Growing up a mixed-race child of an Italian-American mother and Black father, she recognized the importance of driving change and sharing Black stories, prejudice, and bias. Part of that drive came from her father, James Jackson, who worked at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research’s Program for Research on Black America.
“I grew up with an expectation and sense of service to the Black community,” she said.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University, Jackson pursued a career in higher education at Georgetown as a coordinator of student programs. “What I loved about working in higher education was that they were having these conversations around diversity and were concerned about DEI issues,” she explained.
However, Jackson decided she wanted to drive larger change and felt she could make a greater impact in the business world. To do that, she decided to obtain an MBA, knowing it would teach her the business and leadership skills to be successful with her career pivot.
“I picked the Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA Program because I wanted a school where I would not be out of place, that offered opportunities to gain hands-on experience through action-based learning, and that was committed to sustainability and social impact,” she said. “Ross stood out to me because of the student population and because of its focus on intrapreneurship and positive leadership, which made it different from what other schools were doing at the time.”
An important voice for the Black student community at Michigan Ross
As a Michigan Ross MBA student, Jackson joined the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management and became president of the Black Business Student Association in her second year. It was a time of change at Ross, with a new dean joining the school, and she was actively involved in discussions with leadership members about what diversity at Ross meant and how to increase the number of Black applicants to the school.
“My time as BBSA president was focused on ensuring that we give back in service to those who might come after us,” she said. “I worked with the administration to bring to light the importance of ensuring the legacy of large representation of Black students at Michigan Ross and found ways to showcase the amazing alumni and student experiences of the Ross Black community to prospective students as we sought to drive up acceptance of offers of admission.”
Jackson also worked to build connections with Black alumni to help them see the value of their Ross education and foster connections between alumni and students.
“That was my first experience with how powerful the Ross alumni network is,” she said. “Alumni are instrumental in recruiting and closing deals with prospective students, so engaging that community was very important.”
Driving change and increasing diversity at Goldman Sachs
Upon graduating from Michigan Ross, Jackson landed the post-MBA job she wanted at Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City.
“My goal was to join a company that invested in its people as a priority because I knew I had a lot to learn if I wanted to be a leader at a large organization,” she said. “At Goldman Sachs, I had the opportunity to come in and make a lot of change. I was fortunate to lead the Black affinity network, which started off with 12 professionals, and I was able to grow it to more than 100 by the time I left less than five years later. I also was able to learn a ton about leading teams and different forms of diversity, too, including religious diversity.”
Jackson has held several senior leadership positions at tech companies, including global operations manager at Qualtrics and director of customer experience at Riot Games and Dr. Squatch. She became a member of Portfolia Funds – investment funds designed for women who want to back entrepreneurial companies for returns and impact – and the Georgetown Angel Investment Network and moved on to be vice president of customer experience at The Flex Co. Throughout her post-MBA career journey, she leaned on the Michigan Ross Black alumni network for support and guidance.
“From a career perspective, my Michigan Ross network and Black alumni network have helped me understand if career moves were good, and they’ve been a big part of keeping me sane in tough times and in making me feel like I was not alone in my personal journey,” she said. “I’m one of two Black employees and the only Black executive at my current company, I was the only Black executive at my previous company, and was the most senior Black female executive at Goldman in Salt Lake City.”
Navigating the business environment as a Black executive is tricky, and while working in affinity groups at a company is great, working with individuals outside your organization allows you to have more open conversations. That’s where the Michigan Ross alumni network has been super beneficial in making my experience feel heard and understood.
The award recipients spoke briefly about their research as part of the ceremony. The 2022 award winners and their projects are:
BBA Senior Thesis Award: Noor Sheikh-Khalil – “Who Loses Out: Evaluating the Association Between County Vulnerability and Closures of U.S. Hospitals, Emergency Departments, and Obstetric Departments”
Sheikh-Khalil studied the growing phenomenon of closures among hospitals and hospital departments, which can directly impact the health of the local community. She found that counties considered the most vulnerable suffered a higher rate of closures of hospitals and emergency departments. She also considered various demographic factors, concluding that Black and Hispanic populations saw higher likelihood of such closures.
“Communities of color and poor communities, on a variety of socioeconomic metrics, are the ones who are being impacted by this trend,” she said in her presentation at the ceremony. “The question arises, what are we going to do to make sure that if these closures actually do reduce access to care, that the people who live in these communities aren’t being harmed by this trend?”
BBA Senior Thesis Award: Suibhne Ó Foighil – “Closing the Gap: Corporate Boards Add More Women When Interlocking with Diverse Peers”
Ó Foighil studied how to improve gender diversity on corporate boards, specifically looking at companies in the S&P 1500 that are “interlocked” by having a director serving on multiple boards. He found that if a particular board is less diverse than the other boards its members serve on, that board has an above-average likelihood of electing a woman director.
“The directors infer what is normal for gender diversity on these interlocked boards, and this guides decision making the next time a director is up for election,” Ó Foighil said. “This evidence suggests that maybe we can have more nuanced strategies when it comes to promoting gender diversity on these boards.”
PhD Research Award: Reuben Hurst – “Combatting Political Stigma with Countervailing Claims: Evidence from Charlottesville”
Hurst did not attend the ceremony, but Bell described his work as “a really interesting analysis of how socio-political statements from organizations happen in a space where there’s a crisis, particularly when related to white supremacy.”
Hurst studied the effect of a polarizing event — specifically, the “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia in 2017 — on organizations with different political leanings. “Interestingly, organizations that normally would either be neutral or even not pro-diversity, were more likely to be pro-diversity in their hiring process and in their recruitment process, particularly when candidates coming through were also pro-diversity,” Bell said. “Organizations and firms that were there didn’t want to be associated with that (the rally).”
Faculty Research Award: Justin Huang and Julia Lee Cunningham – “From Anti-China Rhetoric to Anti-Asian Behavior: The Social and Economic Cost of ‘Kung Flu’”
Huang began by noting that hate crimes against individuals are common when people unjustly blame an entire group or class for events such as rising economic competition, a terrorist attack, or a public health crisis, citing the murders of Vincent Chin and Balbir Singh Sodhi in 1982 and 2001, respectively. And as anti-Asian hate crimes have been rapidly rising, particularly in the last two years, politicians have used stigmatizing language (e.g. former President Trump’s usage of ‘Kung Flu’) to describe the pandemic, and media outlets have used dehumanizing images of Asians in their coverage of COVID-19. Huang and Lee Cunningham’s research examined how the increase in anti-Chinese sentiment has led to consumer discrimination against Asian American-owned businesses.
“Consumer boycotts can act on superficial angles, and this can create collateral damage for minority-owned businesses, small businesses, and marginalized communities,” Huang said. The research comes as a stark reminder to public officials, business leaders, and the media to avoid creating stigma around major events due to the range of social, economic, and even physical harms that this can create for American minority communities.
Faculty Research Award: Jim Omartian – “Misreporting of Gender Pay Gap Information”
Omartian and his coauthors, including Michigan Ross PhD student McKenna Bailey, studied how companies report required performance data on gender pay gaps in the U.K. While the disclosures are designed to shame companies into improving equity for women, they can only be effective if employers are compelled to report truthfully. The research found reason to question the reported numbers, such as 5% of the results being mathematically impossible, and a striking number of companies reporting the exact same pay for men and women.
“It seems that misreporting is really common,” Omartian said. “Public disclosure as a mechanism to get companies to improve may not be as effective as possible if we don’t have some more enforcement mechanisms in place.”
Faculty Research Award: Maxim Sytch – “Shared Social Contexts and the Dynamics of Inequality in Social Networks”
Sytch and his co-authors studied more than 700,000 inventors in the U.S. over a period of 20 years, finding that in many regions, female inventors are less likely to be in the core of their regional networks — that is, the central part of the network that gives significant private advantage. In particular, inventors located in the core of the regional networks were 30% more likely to patent again, with their next patent coming on average 7.5 months sooner. The researchers looked for ways to break this inequality — in particular, by bringing inventors together in newly introduced patent libraries for networking events.
They found such libraries — as an example of a shared activity that brings people together — can either decrease or increase network inequality, and that this effect depends on the type of library and its social context. “Academic patent libraries were substantially less helpful for female inventors,” Sytch said. “They were tailored toward supporting academic researchers, not independent inventors, and STEM academic research remains male dominant. Female inventors didn’t feel that they belonged there. As a result, academic patent libraries actually increased inequality, but public patent libraries, which were much more receptive to diverse social groups participating, reduced network inequality.” In addition, libraries in geographical areas with few or no female inventors already prominently placed in the core of their regional networks exacerbated network inequality.
“Our study is of patent libraries, but the implications of it extend to other types of shared contexts that can help marginalized groups build better networks,” Sytch said. “Our main takeaway is that, in order for shared activities to reduce inequality, we need to encourage participation by diverse social groups and stimulate their feeling of belonging; and place these activities in regions in which there is already a nucleus of participants from marginalized social groups in prominent network positions, while encouraging those individuals to participate.”
J. Frank Yates Diversity and Inclusion Teaching Excellence Award: Chris Rider
Rider recently introduced a groundbreaking course on equity analytics at Michigan Ross. The course has drawn attention in academic circles and the media.
“We try to understand each other in equity analytics. So what we do is try to document disparities in the world. We want to attribute those gaps to processes that we view as equitable or inequitable,” Rider said. “We then try to design interventions to close the gaps we see as being inequitable, but preserve elements that we think are fair. In other words, we’re trying to understand the world.”
“Our challenge in this class is to understand when systematic means of disparity are fair or unfair, and also recognize that sometimes luck is really important. This is what we do in the class: Try to understand data generating processes so that we can design more informed interventions to close gaps, to help the world become a little bit more equitable.”
Click here to read this article on the Michigan Ross website.
The Black Community at Michigan Ross is a family, and this family has helped me navigate the ups and downs of corporate advancement. Many of us are one of a few or only senior Black executives, and leaning on each other through times of uncertainty or pivotal decisions is invaluable. Michigan Ross gives you access to an amazing alumni network that cares deeply about the success of those who come before and after your time in school.