2022 Edie Hunt Award Winner Advocates for More Equitable World

Growing up as the child of a Mexican diplomat, Natalia Alvarez Diaz was exposed to a wide array of languages, cultures, and economic realities while living in Mexico, New Zealand, Egypt, Canada, and Lebanon. Following the example set by her parents, Natalia gained a deep respect for the people who supported her family — nannies, for example, whose economic circumstances meant they helped raise her and her brother in addition to their own children. This visible inequality, Natalia says, made her intensely aware of her privilege. “The world is not built to serve everyone in the same way…it’s our responsibility to open as many doors for others as possible.”

It was in this spirit of generosity and sensitivity that Natalia — a 2022 graduate of the University of Virginia (Darden School of Business) — was selected as this year’s Edie Hunt Inspiration Award winner. Announced during the 2022 Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference in Los Angeles last month, the award is given annually to an MBA who has contributed to her school or community by advancing women in business.

Here are highlights of Natalia’s accomplishments during her MBA:

Making Diversity More Visible

While president of Darden’s Graduate Women in Business (GWIB) program, Natalia helped Darden’s administration see the need to broaden women’s exposure to less traditionally female business careers; to secure more scholarships for women, particularly of under-represented minorities; and to make career-related offerings and other support systems more inclusive for women.

GWIB at Darden gets its funding through corporate sponsorships, and its ranks include investment banks, financial services and health care companies, and consulting firms, for example, but not private equity or venture capital firms. Natalia advocated for a more diverse set of sponsors for Darden’s GWIB to “make openly visible to women roles that would not be typically visible,” she explains, and to “create more options for Darden women to see themselves in different functions and kinds of companies.” She also worked with other students to move away from biases — for example, that jobs in some industries are easier for women to obtain.

The world is not built to serve everyone in the same way…it’s our responsibility to open as many doors for others as possible.

At Darden’s career center, Natalia facilitated a shift in Darden’s approach to be more equitable and inclusive in recruiting. She partnered with the career center staff — who were very open to change and eager to “understand the realities of Darden women on the ground” — to incorporate a new question into follow-up surveys after an MBA meets with a career center counselor: Was this person sensitive and inclusive of my identity? “It seems like a small change,” Natalia says, “but giving women an anonymous way to express that was important.”

Leveraging Business To Create a More Equitable World

Natalia’s inclusivity efforts extended beyond the halls of Darden. She volunteered at two non-profits while getting her MBA. Serving on the board of Sin Barreras (which means “without barriers” in English) was an opportunity for Natalia to get back to her roots and serve the immigrant Hispanic community of Charlottesville and surrounding areas.

“As a voting board member, I worked with them across a number of initiatives” — including re-writing the mission and vision statements — “and I got to put into practice what I was learning in the Darden classrooms,” she says. Being a native Spanish speaker and Mexican, Natalia could easily connect with the vulnerable communities that Sin Barreras served.

Her experience at Sin Barreras heightened her awareness “of the role that business can play in creating a more just and equitable world,” she says. “Business schools are such bastions of privilege that it can be easy to lose track of the fact that [business students] have the kinds of opportunities most people will never have,” she explains.

In addition to Sin Barreras, Natalia volunteered for Darden’s well-established Prison Education Program, where she taught a fundamental business course to female inmates in a high-security prison. The pandemic kept her from volunteering as much as she would have liked, but Natalia said her eyes opened to the challenges facing the formerly incarcerated to secure employment upon their release. People with criminal records already have an uphill climb in finding work, but for those who have been in the prison system a long time, they face the added challenge of a “business world [that] has changed dramatically,” she says, necessitating teaching new skills.

Continuing Activism Beyond Her MBA

Natalia may be closing her MBA chapter, but she plans to continue her activism once she begins her marketing role at Microsoft this summer. “Microsoft has a strong moral and social compass,” she explains, and she is interested in exploring corporate social responsibility and/or environmental, social and governance roles down the road.

Whatever path she takes, Natalia says, it will always be “very important to ground myself in the lives of people who are less fortunate.”

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