Zendesk Case Competition

By Ana Mancia

hen designing the first ever gender equity case competition for undergraduate students, impact was a crucial theme. In a joint effort between the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL), Berkeley Women in Business (BWiB), and Zendesk, students had the opportunity to solve a real-world problem affecting women at Zendesk and leave their mark on the corporate world. The case competition involved months of planning and countless hours of preparation from the leadership team, but proved to be an extremely valuable opportunity for students, faculty, and the representatives from Zendesk.

The idea started in Spring 2018, when Professor Kellie McElhaney had the idea of launching an undergraduate case competition focused on gender equity. An opportunity of this nature had not been created previously. Despite the plethora of case competitions available to students at Haas, it was rare to find one about diversity and inclusion, in general, let alone about gender equity. The team at EGAL had a hunch that students would appreciate the chance to solve a real-world problem that women face professionally and decided to move forward with the idea.

They enlisted the help of me (Ana Mancia) and Ishita Rustagi, two leaders of Berkeley Women in Business (BWiB), which is a Haas student organization focused on female empowerment and equity in UC Berkeley’s business community. We worked with EGAL on the task of finding a corporate sponsor for the competition, which was a challenge. Which company would be willing to disclose their real-world problems surrounding gender equity and take the recommendations of undergraduate students?

During the summer of 2018, Zendesk was identified as the sponsor for the competition. For Zendesk, this was an opportunity to continue accelerating change in our greater business environment and engage students at the same time. We worked with a team at Zendesk to organize the case competition and choose a problem for students to solve.

When it came to writing the case, it was important to choose a real challenge that Zendesk was currently facing with their female employees or consumers. Because impact was a crucial element of this case competition, we wanted students to feel as though their recommendations would be taken seriously and used by the company. When reflecting on my own past experiences as a participant in Haas case competitions, I felt that cases were often fictional or did not provide opportunities for real-world impact. I was determined to make this case competition different and give students the chance to solve true problems.

The leadership team at Zendesk settled on mentorship as a topic for the case, and specifically needed help redesigning their internal mentorship program for women on a global scale. Earlier in 2018, Zendesk had launched a pilot mentorship program in two offices, but the program did not achieve its fullest potential due to a shortage of mentors, scalability restraints, and time restrictions, among other reasons. Zendesk was committed to re-launching a second roll-out of the mentorship program, but wanted to solve the initial challenges that hindered the pilot program’s success.

Ishita and I worked with the Zendesk team to write a case that would capture the importance of female mentorship and highlight the issues that Zendesk faced. We spent hours compiling information and writing a narrative, while receiving constant feedback from the Zendesk team. Once the case was ready, it was time to market the case competition to undergraduates and begin registration.

The case competition quickly gained traction throughout Haas and the BWIB-EGAL team was overwhelmed with the amount of students interested. Initially, we had planned for no more than 80 students to participate. However, 150+ students ended up registering and we received incredibly positive feedback from the Haas community.

Ultimately, we were able to accommodate 26 teams and held a Kick-Off event where teams received the written case, learned how to do a case competition, and began working on their final presentations. Throughout the next week, the teams diligently worked on their pitch decks and prepared for the case competition.

On September 21, 2018, pitch day had arrived at last! The panel of Zendesk judges arrived at Haas, and all 26 teams presented between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. Throughout the day, the judges marveled at the students’ ability to bring the case to life and defend a diversity of solutions. Many ideas were presented, from creating a mentorship website to hosting global conferences at Zendesk.

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Team Azend with the Zendesk judges | Photo by Jiim Block

The winning team was a group of 5 junior transfer Haas undergraduates, who developed an app for Zendesk, which allowed mentors and mentees to log in, check events, connect with each other outside of mentoring sessions, watch videos, and collect data to assess progress. The team came from a variety of backgrounds, and it was their first case competition ever. They beat out 25 other teams, including students who were case competition veterans. In addition to their $600 reward, the winning team is now working with Zendesk at their corporate headquarters to implement the mentorship program and transform their ideas into impact.

Adriana Vanegas, a transfer student from Irvine Valley College, said she never expected to win. “As transfer students we really didn’t think that we’d be able to live up to the other continuing students so we didn’t believe we’d be here,” she said, adding, “I think one of the best experiences was being up all night and working together and making mistakes.”

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Photos by Jim Block

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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