Wharton Alliance, a student organization dedicated to creating a supportive community for LGBTQIA+ students interested in business, and the Natives at Penn student organization recently collaborated on the annual Diversity Case Competition held by the Wharton School.
Forty teams across the country and Canada entered the competition, and 16 teams competed on Feb. 25. The main competition featured undergraduate teams who presented their proposals in front of a panel of judges composed of Wharton Alliance’s corporate sponsors as well as Wharton faculty and staff.
The theme of this year’s competition was based on the Biden administration’s pledge to clean up coal mine pollution, and involved Indigenous land, sustainability, and climate.
“In selecting the theme of our case each year, we always look to choose an issue that’s timely and grounded in real-world events,” says Wharton junior Jack Franklin, one of the co-chairs of the competition. “Through our research, we discovered the Peabody Energy coal mine located on Indigenous land, which was closed suddenly, leaving many without jobs and large amounts of pollution behind. This is not an isolated issue but one that continues to occur on reservations across the United States.”
According to Franklin, in the recent federal infrastructure package, $11.3 billion was allocated over 15 years to clean abandoned coal mines, many of which continue to sit on Indigenous land, emitting pollution and poisoning the local water supply.
“As we dug deeper, we found this to be an extremely important issue which we believed would resonate with our undergraduate participants and spark a much-needed conversation on how these energy companies should operate moving forward, not just keeping their bottom line in mind, but also the needs of the environment and the Indigenous communities they operate in,” he says.
“Each year, we seek to source a diverse panel of judges from across our corporate sponsors as well as the Wharton faculty,” Franklin says. “We were very lucky to be joined by judges from Accenture, Insight Partners, Oak Hill Advisors, Warburg Pincus, and Capital One, along with several esteemed members of the Wharton faculty and staff. We felt our judging team did a fantastic job of applying the many nuances of the case in their deliberations and selecting the best teams overall. Given that judging the competition means spending a lot of time on Zoom throughout the day, we’re incredibly grateful for their willingness to serve and engage with these important issues.”
The annual event highlights the commitment by the Wharton Alliance to bring conversations about inclusion into the business space and create a pertinent scenario based on current events.
“This year was the 8th Annual Wharton Alliance Diversity Case Competition, and each year, we challenge participants to take on a simulated business problem at the intersection of diversity and inclusion, marketing strategy, and financial feasibility,” Franklin says. “Broadly, we ask teams to consider the question: What role does diversity and inclusion play when making major business decisions? There are plenty of other case competitions across the United States, but I think what makes ours special is its focus on engaging undergraduates from all majors and backgrounds across the world on considering how to incorporate a DEI mindset more fundamentally into their decision-making process.”
Franklin explains that fostering diversity in the business world is important, and every leader, regardless of their background, will have to make complex decisions that may adversely affect diverse communities or employees.
“Through this competition, we seek to highlight the importance of going beyond the bottom line and thinking about these issues critically,” he says. “The mark of a great leader is their ability to surround themselves with a multitude of diverse perspectives and incorporate them into their leadership style as a whole. By engaging tomorrow’s leaders in these conversations now, we hope to do our part to encourage a more inclusive business world.”
“I am so proud of the students for putting together such a first-rate case competition,” says Lee Kramer, director of Wharton Student Life. “The student organizers did such an incredible job with every detail related to the diversity case competition. I was equally impressed that the students from Wharton Alliance and Natives at Penn wrote such a compelling and relevant case while raising and amplifying Indigenous voices and issues with respect to land usage, Native land and culture, climate, and sustainability.”
A partnership with Natives at Penn was essential in order to fully grasp all aspects of the situation, according to Franklin.
“In writing the case this year, we quickly recognized the incredible amount of nuance and culture that surrounds the Indigenous topics discussed,” he says. “We immediately reached out to Natives at Penn for a partnership when we began to think about the idea, and they graciously accepted. Having them sit in on meetings and conversations with us, provide valuable perspective on drafts of the case, and engage with our keynote speaker and participants during the competition was truly an integral part of the success of this year’s case. In seeking to elevate Indigenous voices, we felt it was extremely important to incorporate them in the development process from day one.”
This year’s event included a career fair and a keynote speech from behavioral scientist Matthew Yazzie, an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion and issues that concern Indigenous communities.