The University of Chicago’s annual Professional Services Symposium offered a welcome departure from the typical diversity, equity and inclusion programs that financier Cynthia DiBartolo has attended, which she said often aren’t as robust as they purport to be.
Her firm was one of the 27 invited to the 14th annual event to showcase the capabilities and capacity of their business to leaders at UChicago, UChicago Medicine and the Obama Foundation.
“That’s the difference I noticed immediately,” said DiBartolo, the founder and chief executive officer of Tigress Financial Partners, the nation’s only disabled and woman-owned financial services firm. “First of all, this is not a reactive meeting. It’s a proactive symposium. That’s to the credit of the University. It speaks to the culture. Culture drives behavior. Behavior drives performance. And performance drives results.”
Held in downtown Chicago and on campus in November, the event drew participants from diverse legal services, money management, financial services, communications, information technology and human resource services enterprises. They discussed specific, potential professional service opportunities with matched University officials.
“These were actual meetings; they were not pitches. Everyone is sitting around the conference table having dialogue, conversations and building relationships,” said Nadia Quarles, assistant vice president of UChicago’s Office of Business Diversity. “This program is distinguishable because it’s the first of its kind that’s not procurement/supplier/buyer-driven. They are driven by relationships with vice presidents and high-level decision-makers within our organization.”
The symposium has produced remarkable results, with the University now spending $200 million with more than 100 minority- and woman-owned professional services providers, according to Quarles. She said the event’s success reflects how “business diversity and inclusion is ingrained” in the culture at UChicago.
At a reception held at the Gordon Parks Arts Hall, President Paul Alivisatos thanked Quarles and University Trustee John W. Rogers Jr. for their efforts in expanding the symposium and said the University will continue to find opportunities to build partnerships with business leaders.