Using Business to Expand the Conversation on DEI

February 29, 2024

By Sissie Liang and Grace Varghese

The National Diversity Case Competition hosted annually by Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, has had a common theme throughout the 13 years that it’s been held: addressing issues that historically underrepresented groups face, which is something businesses also have an interest in. 

This year’s main sponsoring company, AbbVie Inc., focused on the issue of underrepresentation in clinical trials, which has a severe domino effect that often causes disparate impacts among marginalized populations. Placing as a runner-up in the competition, this is our story of how we got there.

Our team had originally been shocked at this topic, as none of us had any idea how the clinical trial process even worked, let alone experience within the industry. After a brief wave of panic, we all realized that, in one way or another, we had personal experiences with the negative impacts of underrepresentation in clinical trials. Whether it be a father who held distrust of the medical community or a mentor who was working with clinical trial data directly, there was a clear turning point when we realized how close this issue was to us. Soon, this case went from being just a competition to reflecting an issue all of us were passionate about solving.

After many hours of our winter break dedicated to researching, planning, editing, and revising our project, we were finally able to create a tangible product to communicate our ideas. Our advisor set up times for us to have our presentation and content reviewed by Lauren Clarkson, academic success director; Greta Adornetto, director of student life; Tulsa Fearing, Academic Success Center program officer, and Stephanie Pawlik, student affairs program manager, all of whom were able to give us invaluable feedback so that we could fine-tune our presentation

Our team focused on two main barriers that we needed to overcome to improve opportunities for underrepresented groups: accessibility and a lack of knowledge. Using a character named Maria, who hypothetically would face both these challenges, we shared our presentation through her lens and experiences as a non-English speaking senior living in San Francisco, California. Our solution in the competition included not only a plan of how we were going to obtain new voices through educational programs in local communities but also a plan of how we were going to retain these voices through increasing accessibility with mobile clinical trials, which would significantly reduce the labor needed for an underrepresented participant.

This solution highlighted how our perspective on the outreach of DEI programs changed, as we’ve learned that simply opening the doors to participation is not enough. Rather, we need to invest and put strong efforts into outreach to make it as easy and accessible for marginalized communities to participate. In order to change the future, businesses have an obligation to create opportunities that significantly reduce barriers to participation.

As people of color from such communities, there has often been a sense that we need to adapt to the status quo and change fundamental parts of our identities to fit into society. Interacting with other marginalized students and communicating with schools all over the nation, we’ve come to understand that we need to fight for environments that embrace differences rather than continuing to assimilate.

The Ross School of Business has consistently challenged us to envision a more equitable society from a business perspective and has taught us how we can continue to be the change we wish to see. From creating programs that promote equity, such as the ASC program, to hosting speakers like Trey Boynton, Ross has transformed our perspectives on the importance of DEI in our conversations.

This case competition taught all of us how we can broaden this conversation by learning how to obtain research and data on how to create personalized programs to increase diversity in perspectives. For many companies/programs, the DEI initiative is just a monthly cultural showcase. The case competition made us realize that a successful DEI initiative will go out of its way to lower the barriers to access. It goes beyond just initially obtaining the diverse perspectives but it puts the same effort in retaining those perspectives by investing in a safe environment for those voices to thrive.


Click here to read this article on the Michigan Ross website.