While everything I work on has outcomes that can apply to firms, I like looking at how we influence people.”
Though Jenkins began her career working with companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield and Procter and Gamble, one of her MBA professors encouraged her to consider a future in academia. He introduced her to The PhD Project, an organization that seeks to diversify business education by providing opportunities for Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans to pursue their PhDs.
“My professor said that he could see my talent for wanting to know more about the root causes of things and why things work the way they do,” she recalled. “And at the PhD Project’s conference, I thought—okay, this could be my life. I can see this.”
Jenkins joined Kogod’s faculty this semester after earning her PhD in marketing from the University of South Florida. Her dissertation explored the impact of labeling products and companies as Black-owned and whether those labels benefit the businesses involved.
“In 2020, with the social justice movements happening, I started to think about how I could work on something that could be impactful in that particular space,” she recalled. “It just so happened that when I was online shopping, I’d see more Black-owned labels in different spaces, and I thought—is that a good idea or not?”
Through online surveys and field experiments, Jenkins investigated whether labeling products as Black-owned not only encouraged people to buy those products but also encouraged them to buy them habitually. She found that while consumers who consider social issues in their buying patterns may buy a Black-owned product once, they typically won’t make it a part of their regular purchases.
“It was interesting to see how it plays out in real life since a lot of research says that people who buy based on social causes might buy something once but won’t necessarily come back again. And that’s what I found within my research, too,” Jenkins explained. “It’s good to know, especially for companies that have been using this because it might be an opportunity for them to shift.” Where retailers may lean on labeling products based on their competitors’ decisions, research such as Jenkins’ can help them conceptualize other, more impactful ways to meaningfully back Black businesses.
As Jenkins continues her research in this space, she’s interested in tackling ethical and social issues brought about by developments in technology. With Web3 and artificial intelligence gaining ground, for instance, she’s noticed how both can play into existing topics of race and discrimination, and she hopes to tackle more on this issue through future projects.
I was reading about a digital model styled as African American, but the person behind the model is white. Essentially, this person is profiting off the black face of a model that doesn’t actually exist. What are the ethical considerations that come along with that?"
"From a consumer behavior perspective, is that something that consumers would like or would push back against? This kind of thing comes up within the Web3 space," she said. As new technology brings new questions along with it, Jenkins hopes to be at the forefront of ensuring that innovation doesn’t come at the cost of social consciousness.
Jenkins is thrilled to join a marketing faculty that’s just as dedicated to social justice as she is. “Sonya Grier literally wrote the book on race and marketing, and Ron Hill is spearheading an initiative that puts together people across the university who work on these issues,” she enthused. “I’m so excited to get to work with that group, to get different perspectives and come up with fascinating research that we can pursue to help change the world and push social justice forward.”
Jenkins is also excited to be in a space where she can focus on her research and prepare her students for their careers. Though she wasn’t always certain that she would wind up in an academic setting, she’s found that she’s happiest where she can see the difference she’s making.
“I’m glad that I made the leap into academia. This is definitely the right space for me,” she said. “I enjoy the research part of it and working on things that I find interesting that can help improve the world, and the teaching aspect is great. I feel like I get to do something every day that actually lets me be impactful on people’s lives in a personalized way.”