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First-Ever Female Case Competition Bridges the Gap

Dean David Platt poses with Alex Palmer, Binna Kim, and Meredith Rotwein

Alex Palmer, BBA '17, stands poised at the front of the spacious classroom on the fifth floor of the Graduate School of Business building. As she speaks, her words flow effortlessly to the judges who sit attentively before her, her hands gesturing to the screen in the background. As she wraps up her presentation, Palmer's presence gives no indication that she and her team members of BC Consulting, Binna Kim, BBA '17, and Meredith Rotwein, BBA '17, stayed up until 6 a.m. the day of the presentation, preparing for the first all-female undergraduate Case Competition held in the country.

"It was a rollercoaster, and I think that's how it should be," Rotwein says. "It feels rewarding once you're finished, but when you're in the battle it's kind of difficult to see the outcome."

BC Consulting was one of 20 teams that competed in late January in the Female Case Competition. Over four days, teams of three to four female undergraduate McCombs School of Business students gave 10-minute presentations on their solutions to a challenge presented by the competition’s primary sponsor, vacation rental marketplace HomeAway: How can the company better connect with millennials? Teams could also submit an optional essay on women’s participation in technology and business, fields where women are still often underrepresented. 

Stephanie Hinojosa-Galvan, director of Texas BBA Student Life, created the event to help increase female participation in business case competitions. She hoped that female students would gain the experience, confidence, and first-hand knowledge that comes with participating. 

"We know some of these competitive experiences can be a turnoff to some of our female students, but it doesn't have to be if we create an environment that they're comfortable in," Hinojosa-Galvan says. "They will increase their skills in many areas and then may want to participate in future competition."

Hinojosa-Galvan sought the help of avid case competition participant Angela Morisette, BBA and BHP '15. Together they wanted to learn why female students were participating in these competitions at a lower rate than their male counterparts.

McCombs students do well at national case competitions, "but I saw there is definitely a gender difference for women... I was tired of seeing that," Hinojosa-Galvan says.

After collecting data from the Undergraduate Business Council on case competition registrations and enrollment records, Morisette found that while 50 percent of McCombs BBA students are female, only 29 percent of last year's case competition participants are female.

Through interviews with female case competitors and female students who had never presented before, Morisette found four potential causes for a lower rate of female participation: the lack of experience; the competition and intensity of team dynamics; the length and timing of competitions; and the possibility that female students avoid activities that could jeopardize other existing commitments.

With the help of Allie Koenig, BBA '15, president of the Women in Business Association, Morisette and Hinojosa-Galvan began planning the first Female Case Competition.

        Watch the teams in action in this video, produced by Samantha Grasso as part of a UT Austin journalism project.

Though the team expected support from the McCombs community and sponsors, they were surprised by how quickly faculty and students latched onto the initiative. McCombs faculty responded within minutes of being notified of the competition, and members of the Graduate Women in Business student organization signed up to mentor teams through the competition process.

Two weeks after opening registration, all 20 team slots had been assigned, six teams were wait-listed, and a majority of the judging and mentoring slots were assigned. Hinojosa-Galvan and her team reached their goal: of the teams registered, 66 percent of the team members had never participated in a case competition before.

"Not many competitions have mentors, and that's a big part of our effort here. For the people who don't really know what they’re doing, [the mentors] are a guiding force," Koenig says. "Having that is also female empowerment, with an older role model who has been there, done that, and can help support them."

On the day of the competition, six teams advanced to finals. Of those finalists, 71 percent were freshmen or sophomore students, and 76 percent were first-time competitors. At finals, Pinnacle Consulting won third place with a prize of $900, Hedgehog Consulting placed second with $1,500, and BC Consulting took first place with $1,800. Kase Dominators won the essay portion of the competition.

"There's nothing to lose and so much to gain [in participating]. I've learned so much more in these past couple days than from other experiences," said Kim, member of BC Consulting. "The knowledge that you gain is so invaluable, and I know I’ll use it in my classes and in the workforce."

Hinojosa-Galvan says she was thrilled at the positive feedback. She hopes to expand the competition to include more teams next year, and to bring the competition to the national stage in the next two years.

"I think people love Austin and they would want to come to a highly ranked business school to participate in something like this," she says. "Imagine 20 teams of women from around the country participating. It could really be a cool experience."

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