Zendesk Case Competition

By Emma Yuan and Deeksha Chaturvedi

ollowing the successful launch of last Fall’s first Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) case competition at Berkeley Haas, Berkeley Women in Business (BWIB) and the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL) co-hosted its now annual case competition on Friday, September 19. Zendesk graciously agreed to return as the sponsoring organization and shared a problem regarding the deployment of a global diversity champion model. The competition involved months of planning and diligent communication among the leadership teams of BWIB, EGAL, and Zendesk to create a fruitful experience for both undergraduate students and Zendesk professionals.

The planning process started in the Summer of 2019. Last year, Zendesk had been incredibly satisfied with the student solutions for their women’s mentorship program and had begun implementing the app-based solution developed by the 2018 winners. The D&I team wanted to expand the scope of this year’s prompt to further tap into the energy and ideas of our UC Berkeley undergraduate students.

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Kellie McElhaney | Photo by KLC Photos

Headquartered in San Francisco, Zendesk is quickly expanding its employee base through acquisitions and new offices. The company currently operates 17 offices across five continents. The two-person D&I team was challenged to develop initiatives that maintained a sense of company-wide unity and made allowances for local and contextual factors nuanced by geography and culture. A local diversity champion would bring clarity to current D&I priorities, inform the leadership of potential areas of growth, and partner with existing efforts to promote a unique, inclusive culture at each office.

The case was structured to include both short and long term timelines, encouraging participants to consider impact, as well as implementation. The initial phase focused on the development of a pilot program with non-monetary incentives, a selection process for diversity champions, guidelines for collaboration with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), and communication with senior leadership and the D&I team. The longer-term focus was on scaling up the model and defining key success factors.

Once the case was written, the competition was marketed to the greater campus community. We received an overwhelming interest from the student body and had over 140 undergraduate students sign up to participate. Each team provided valuable recommendations in their presentations, which created a difficult, yet exciting, time selecting the 12 finalists who would present their ideas in-person to Zendesk professionals.

The finalists each took a varied approach, with some teams utilizing non-monetary incentives such as facetime with senior leadership, travel, and time off to draw diversity champions from each location. Other teams proposed expanding the diversity champion program beyond a single person in each locale, in order to create broader involvement and buy-in from Zendesk employees.

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The winning team with Zendesk judges | Photo by KLC Photos

Ultimately, a team consisting of Radhika Singh (‘21), Pallavi Mundra (‘22), Ria Verma (‘22), and Anika Mirza (’22) won first place. Their recommendations involved selecting diversity champions through an assessment that tested for an understanding of reading materials reflecting Zendesk’s culture. The selected champions were then tasked with collecting office feedback, hosting town halls, maintaining ERG relations, and spearheading a mentorship program focused on employees from marginalized backgrounds. Champion incentives included an annual forum with senior leadership, networking opportunities, and a recognition award. While watching the team present, we were thrilled to see how the team’s champion model could be magnified with the engagement of local executives and ERGs.

After the competition, Mirza commented, “I enjoyed brainstorming ideas for Zendesk because it was such an open-ended and creative prompt. The most difficult obstacle in the case, in my opinion, was creating a D&I program that can be globally implemented because different cities have such unique D&I needs. Additionally, through this experience, I realized the importance of mentorship and how its impact is actually backed by a lot of research!”

The competition concluded with a small reception and awards presentation. As students, faculty, and professionals gathered to celebrate the creativity of each of the teams, we reflected on how grateful we are to the Zendesk D&I team, EGAL, and BWIB for making this unique event possible.

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At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.

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