Esther Uduehi’s untraditional path, wide-ranging experiences and intellectual drive have led to an extraordinarily impactful early career in marketing
In just two years at the Foster School of Business, Esther Uduehi has accomplished a lot. On top of teaching marketing and managing several research projects on DEI (diversity, equity and inclusions) and identity, she co-founded The Tenure Project, a national initiative to help faculty engage with issues surrounding underrepresented faculty obtaining tenure at business schools.
She was recently named one of the “Top 50 Undergraduate Professors of 2022” by Poets & Quants. The recognition came for her accessible and practical teaching of Market Concepts in Foster’s undergrad core curriculum.
Adding to a long list of accomplishments, Uduehi will receive the 2023 Emerging Leader Award at this year’s Celebration of African American Alumni Achievement, in honor of her extraordinary positive impact on the Foster School’s Black community.
Winding path to marketing
Uduehi calls her journey to marketing “untraditional.” It’s hard to disagree with her.
She earned a BA at Indiana University in chemistry and mathematics. Then she went on to earn an MSc in nature society and environmental policy at Oxford University (where she was a Rhodes Scholar) after starting a PhD in organic chemistry.
“It was after starting the PhD (in chemistry) that I realized this was not what I was interested in,” Uduehi explains, “but I was still trying to find my path.”
Diversifying allows for more voices to be heard, developed and shaped. The less diversity we have, the more likely the same problems will be perpetuated in society without relevant solutions.”
Uduehi found her path through teaching. She taught math, science and violin at a boarding school in Boston before teaching at an all-girls independent school in New York City.
“It was through those experiences that I realized I was really interested in trying to understand identity and how our identities help us to understand not only ourselves, but also how we interact with the world,” she says.
That’s what lead her to get a PhD in marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania before joining the faculty at the Foster School. This is the point that Uduehi says the story really beings. “It was quite the non-traditional journey,” she says. “But it’s really informed the way I approach my work, the classroom and my life in general.”
Identifying the effects of identity
Having found her path, Uduehi delved into her research into DEI and identity in the marketing world and quickly earned recognition for her work, including the 2020 Best Working Paper Award from the Association for Consumer Research. When asked about her research, Uduehi quickly notes that she has “several research streams.”
One project focuses on how consumers make sense of diversity and culture within the marketplace. She explains it as looking at when consumers view a brand using multicultural diversity as being a more positive aspect of the brand versus when those brands are being viewed as a sellout.
Another project looks at how consumers deal with cultural appropriation when they’re engaging with brands. Then there’s the project on language choices.
“That one is looking at to what extent stigmatized consumers want to have language that focuses on their personhood versus their stigmatized identity,” Uduehi explains. “And so, when should brands be using language choices that focus on one or the other?”
Other working papers examine the concept of intersectionality within consumer research. That research looks at what overlapping categories an individual identifies with, and how they relate to the marketplace. “It’s also looking at what we haven’t uncovered so far within marketing because we haven’t been taking into account the overlapping nature of our identities,” she says.
Expanding faculty representation
Uduehi’s work in the DEI space goes beyond her research. In 2020, she co-founded The Tenure Project with Wendy de la Rosa of the Wharton School.
“We saw the need to create space for faculty to discuss issues affecting Black, Latinx and Native American junior faculty on the journey toward tenure,” Uduehi explains.
The Foster School hosted the inaugural conference in August 2022, bringing more than 100 junior faculty from schools across the country together to build community. “We hoped to develop a community across all business fields so junior faculty could support and learn from each other, hopefully well beyond the tenure stage as well,” says Uduehi.
The Tenure Project provides community, research support, self-development opportunities and mentorship from senior faculty. All of this is to reach one goal: meaningfully diversifying the faculty who teach at business schools.
“Diversifying allows for more voices to be heard, developed and shaped,” says Uduehi. “The less diversity we have, the more likely the same problems will be perpetuated in society without relevant solutions.”
Esther Uduehi also serves on the diversity, equity and inclusion board of the Dog Aging Project.