Future of Work Panelists: DEI Everywhere

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

Diverse cultures enjoy a broader scope of perspectives and experiences and provide a more fair and equitable lifestyle for more of their members. Thanks to the Internet and global travel capacities, the planet’s vast range of diverse communities are fully in view today, and international circumstances are pushing them closer together now more than ever before. To fully embrace and engage the opportunities presented by this vast cultural array, appropriate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) standards must be present across all community sectors. And to achieve that level of a truly diverse culture, people must be willing to set aside their prejudices and talk about ‘diversity’ as a valued asset of the whole community.

Talking about DEI and why it matters is what the Economic and Workforce Development department (EWD) of Pasadena City College (PCC) will be doing during its 3rd Annual Future of Work ConferenceTuesday, November 9th from 9:00 am till 11:30 am (register here). 

A diversified panel of experts representing the law, government, industry, and higher education will discuss what diversity means within their sector and help listeners understand why a dedicated DEI focus is so significant in today’s evolving society.


Diversity and the Law

Achieving fair and equitable access to justice in society requires a legal community well-versed in the cultural nuances of its communities. Attorney Sylvia Torres-Guillen is proficient in those competencies through racial, economic, and environmental causes.

She has held numerous prestigious positions in both public and private practice. As the ACLU’s Director of Education Equity, Ms. Torres-Guillen obtained a $7 million settlement to benefit Los Angeles County’s highest-need students. As Governor Jerry Brown’s first Latina General Counsel, she ran California’s Agriculture Labor Relations Board, where she tirelessly sought justice for the State’s 800,000 farmworkers. In 2018, the California State Bar named Ms. Torres-Guillen the California Lawyer of the Year.


Diversity and Industry

Since 2017, Jonathan Mayes has been coordinating the DEI efforts of Albertsons Companies, the owner of 20 different food industry enterprises, and, with over 270,000 employees, one of the largest employers in the country. As the Senior Vice President for External Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer, Mayes’ job is to ensure that the profile of the conglomerate’s workforce resembles that of its millions of customers. Mayes stated that he took the job because of Albertson’s ‘corporate culture that fosters different values, ideas, and backgrounds.’

Also an attorney and the winner of numerous awards for his advocacy focused on DEI initiatives, Mr. Mayes is a founding member of Albertson’s African-American Leadership Network and serves on the boards of the California Grocer’s Association and the California Chamber of Commerce.


Diversity in Government

Two panelists represent agencies from California’s governance sector, Monique Earl and Naomi Iwasaki:

Monique Earl is tapped to inaugurate the role of Chief Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Officer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the largest municipal utility in the country, serving over four million customers. Her new role includes managing several agency directives, including the oversight of initiatives related to human relations, economic development, supplier diversity, and the ‘equity metrics’ data project.

Earl will also be leading the development of the Department’s Racial Equity Action Plan (REAP), an endeavor specifically designed to develop career opportunities and well-paying jobs for community members who have been traditionally under-represented in the agency. Encompassed within the REAP is the utility’s  LA100 Equity Strategies, which aims to ensure all of LA’s communities of color have equal access to a 100% carbon-free future. This initiative works with the federal National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to develop energy access systems for traditionally marginalized LA County residents.

Naomi Iwasaki is Senior Director for LA Metro’s Office of Equity and Race. Her background in ‘public works for social good’ is notable, having been the Director of Neighborhood Services and Great Streets for LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, and a leader in New York City’s Department of Transportation Bicycle Program. As an independent civic planning and engagement consultant, Ms. Iwasaki helps her public and private clients develop comprehensive equity analysis frameworks. Since 2017, she’s been serving on the City of Los Angeles Affordable Housing Commission.

Her work at LA Metro is equally engaging. In 2018, LA County established its Metro Equity Platform to redesign its transportation systems and improve access for its underserved communities to health, housing, education, and safety services. Ms. Iwasaki’s comprehension of the societal divisions caused by disparate transportation decisions will help guide Metro on its way to becoming a more equitable transportation network. 


Diversity in Education

The Conference’s keynote speaker brings his own unique perspective to the event. Dr. Vijay Pendakur’s education credentials in history (BA), East Asian Studies (MA), and education (Ph.D.) inform his work building end-to-end strategies to drive DEI initiatives in the workplace. As Dean of Students and Presidential Advisor on Diversity and Equity at Cornell University, he led the school’s efforts to fully engage all its diverse resources, utilizing his expertise in developing student success and equity design strategies for universities across the country. As a member of the institute teaching faculty, he currently participates with the USC Race and Equity Center and the “High Impact Practices Institute” for the American Association of Colleges and Universities.

Dr. Pendakur is also the inaugural VP and Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer at Zynga, the digital gaming company responsible for “Words with Friends” and other globally popular games. His work includes coordinating the company’s worldwide DEI efforts (spanning three continents) and leading its corporate social responsibility, university relations, and learning and development initiatives.  


Moving forward through and out of the COVID pandemic and climate crises and into a more fair and equitable future requires intentional, well-considered leadership. The remarkable panelists of the PCC EWD Future of Work conference ably demonstrate their leadership capacities as they guide their organizations towards DEI success. PCC invites you to listen in and learn from their expertise.


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