February 3, 2012

The 2012 California Diversity and Leadership Conference opened with an awards breakfast to honor the state's most influential women in
leadership. (Matthew Weil)

Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau joined more than 250 attendees at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union Thursday morning to launch the third annual California Diversity and Leadership Conference.

Organized by the nonprofit National Diversity Council around the theme of “Deconstructing the California Glass Ceiling,” this year’s two-day conference opened with a celebration of the state’s most powerful and influential women in leadership.

Political consultant, commentator and author Donna Brazile was on hand to deliver Thursday’s keynote address. Princeton professor and best-selling author Cornel West, best-known for his 1994 analysis of race and prejudice in America, Race Matters, was scheduled to deliver the conference’s closing address Friday.

“Diversity is more than just about race. It’s about gender, it’s about disability, it’s about religion,” said Birgeneau, who served as honorary co-chair of the conference.

“As a nation, as a state, we cannot afford to underuse precious human capital, and we must eliminate the barriers to diversity that exist through sometimes unconscious but nevertheless systemic bias,” he added.

Brazile delivered the keynote speech on the opening day, which also featured panel discussions, roundtables and workshops on the underrepresentation of women and other minorities in business, academia and society.

NDC founder Dennis Kennedy salutes Chancellor Birgeneau for his
commitment to diversity. (Matthew Weil)
Senior executives from the worlds of information and technology, retail and consulting participated in a panel discussion centered on developing best-practice strategies to achieve diversity in the workplace.

Keith Feldman, assistant professor of comparative ethnic studies at Berkeley, joined industry panelists from the fields of health care, engineering and design and professional and financial services to talk about structural racism and the persistence of racial disparities.

In his address Thursday, the chancellor recalled some words of encouragement he had shared with student activists who, although buoyed by last year’s passage of the California DREAM Act, now hope to see similar legislation in support of undocumented students at the federal level.

“You must not give up, you must not get discouraged,” Birgeneau urged the audience, which included a dozen local high-school students. “Ultimately justice will prevail. You just have to work, and work, and work.”

Berkeley recently launched the Haas Diversity Research Center, which involves faculty members from eight campus units. The center will study the fundamental aspects of multicultural societies related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability and other issues.

“It’s our intention that Berkeley will play a major leadership role in generating policy change to promote equity and inclusion,” Birgeneau said.

Dennis Kennedy established the Texas-based NDC in 2008 to bring together public, private and nonprofit actors to discuss issues of diversity and inclusion, and to advocate for the benefits of multicultural environments across all realms of society.

“At Berkeley, we’re strongly and passionately committed to equity and inclusion and our commitment and passion are matched by Dennis Kennedy’s zeal to effect change through the National Diversity Council,” Birgeneau said.