10 Years of Promoting Diversity and Inclusion: UChicago’s Professional Services Symposium

This week, the University of Chicago will host its 10th Annual Professional Services Symposium, an innovative event that gives minority and women-owned business executives the opportunity to meet face-to-face with top University leaders and key decision-makers across a variety of departments.  

Over the past 10 years, this opportunity to build high-level relationships has helped minority and women-owned businesses land 80 university contracts worth an estimated $42 million. 

John W. Rogers Jr., University Trustee and Chairman and CEO of Ariel Investments, says the event helps tackle economic inequality through business opportunity. 

(From l to r:) University President Robert J. Zimmer, University Trustee and Ariel Investments Chairman and CEO John Rogers, and Nadia Quarles, UChicago's assistant vice president of business diversity.

“Until we acknowledge the lack of opportunities for minority business leaders, especially at the most elite level of professional services in law, technology, accounting, and financial management, where real money and power are created, we don’t stand a chance of closing the wealth gap in this country,” said Rogers. “Large businesses and other organizations with huge purchasing power need to step up, promote minority leaders and partner with minority-owned companies. This isn’t just doing good, but doing good business.” 

Each year, UChicago’s Office of Business Diversity invites 25 to 30 minority and women-owned firms to make business presentations before the University’s heads of communications, financial services, legal, information technology, money management, human resources, architecture, and engineering. Participants attend a pre-symposium meeting, at which vice presidents give departmental overviews and talk about areas of possible opportunity. The following day, the business leaders participate in one-on-one meetings with UChicago vice presidents and lead decision makers.  The event concludes with a networking reception that highlights firms that have obtained contracts and provides an opportunity for University leaders who have worked with those firms to share their experiences with colleagues.

The annual Professional Services Symposium concludes with a networking reception for minority and women-owned firms.

UChicago President Robert Zimmer noted the country’s historical patterns of exclusionary behavior and how those patterns affect who gets hired or who get contracts. He stressed that the diversity symposium is one way to level the playing field and create networks and connections that can result in opportunities based on talent and ability.

“Just the judgment that diversity is good is not adequate—rather, institutions need to ask themselves, what are they prepared to do? Our Office of Business Diversity has been instrumental in helping us maintain that focus, and we prioritize it because the payoff is real,” said Zimmer. “This event has been of enormous benefit and has expanded the pool and scope of people connected to the University.”

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