On Saturday, November 3rd, Business Council hosted the first ever Business Diversity Conference at the Illini Union for over 100 University of Illinois students. The conference focused on the importance and the benefits of diversity in the corporate world. The event also helped students learn about diversity issues that companies are facing. Sponsoring companies offered interactive workshops that addressed issues in diversity and inclusiveness. The Business Diversity Conference reinforces the University’s and the College of Business’s strategic goals in promoting diversity on campus.
The conference was the brainchild of student Priya Shah after her summer internship with Ernst & Young in Chicago where she had the chance to meet personnel dedicated to promoting diversity awareness. Shah realized the great effort being put into diversity initiatives in the corporate world today. She decided that her peers should be aware of diversity issues before they enter the workplace so that they can start their careers with an open mind. This sparked Shah’s idea of bringing various companies together to demonstrate the importance of diversity.
The Business Diversity Conference was very fortunate to have Anthony Anderson, Ernst & Young’s Managing Partner of the Midwest, as the keynote speaker. Anderson spoke about the importance of diversity in the workplace as well as the role it plays in the accounting world.
Ernst & Young, Caterpillar, Target, and Philip Morris participated in the conference. All the companies put together interactive workshops that demonstrated various aspects of diversity and its importance. Ernst & Young played a card game with students to teach a lesson on inter-cultural awareness. Target introduced an activity called “Global Beads” which allowed students to examine their socialization patterns through colored beads representing different ethnicities. Philip Morris held discussion and facilitated exercises on the power of perceptions. Finally, Caterpillar conducted an exercise and discussion on the effects of exclusion.
Student Rebecca Chan commented on the effectiveness of the workshops, “I liked it because it made me aware of different types of diversity that I hadn’t thought about before, such as gender, age gap, etc – not just racial diversity. It was also refreshing to see that major companies are making efforts to combat [non-diversity] in constructive ways.” Chan also added, “I realized that being successful in the business world as an individual employee and as an employer is not just about having skills in finance or marketing but also about building a cohesive team and creating a positive work environment.”
The success of the conference was apparent on students’ faces as they left. Many felt that what they learned was beneficial. “I was able to see how my life was not as diverse as I would like it to be and it was quite an eye-opener. Through the conference I learned I didn't open myself up to meeting enough people who were different than me, and so this is one aspect of my life that I am aware of and can make a conscious effort to change,” commented student Neelam Patadia.