A think tank of diversity practitioners

2004 Symposium

Diversity Symposium, 2004
Equity, Affirmative Action and Diversity: From Past to Present to a Promising Future

NOTE: To access all the documents produced at the 2004 Symposium free of charge, please visit our Publications page.

The 2004 Diversity Symposium, Equity, Affirmative Action and Diversity: From Past to Present to a Promising Future, was hosted by The Alliance, a strategic partnership between The Diversity Collegium and the American Institute for Managing Diversity (AIMD) based in Atlanta, Georgia. The sponsors of the symposium were Hewitt Associates (Platinum Sponsor), Sodexho (Gold Sponsor) and Silver Sponsors: Eastman Kodak, Starbucks Coffee and Weyerhaeuser.


The Alliance selected the topic of affirmative action for its first collaborative effort anticipating the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial decision in the University of Michigan legal case. While many advocates of affirmative action declared the court's decision a win for their side, Justice Sandra Day O'Conner's pronouncement that affirmative action should not be needed in 25 years deserved more attention.

The Alliance decided to assemble experts and opinion leaders to begin to shape the dialogue about affirmative action's future

The Symposium was held October 6-8, 2004 in Lansdowne, Virginia; 130 diversity participants from the United States, Canada and South Africa, invited for their depth of knowledge and experience in the field, joined in the discussion and debate.

The Process

The Alliance invited three experts in affirmative action and diversity to write or share related papers and present opinions at the Symposium. Attendees received and were asked to read the papers in advance. The following presentations occurred on the first day of the Symposium:

R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., D.B.A., founder of AIMD and president of R. Thomas Consulting ad Training, Inc., and named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top consultants in the country, wrote and presented Affirmative Action: 25 Years and Counting.

Jeffrey A. Norris, J.D., president, Equal Employment Advisory Council and partner in McGuinness Norris & Williams LLP, wrote and presented The Impact of the University of Michigan's Affirmative Action Decision on the Corporate and Community Dialogue.

Karen Narasaki, J.D., a nationally recognized expert on immigrant, voting and civil rights issues and president of the Asian American Justice Center (formerly the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium) wrote and presented Affirmative Action in a Global Context: Diversity and the Intersection of Civil and Human Rights.

In addition, several of the Collegium members presented a panel on Global Diversity, and produced a matrix of affirmative action, equity, anti-discrimination and labor laws across a number of countries, a copy of which all participants received.

On the second day, Price Cobbs, M.D., a seminal figure in the diversity field and author of several books, presented Moving Forward by Respecting our Beginnings and Honoring our Endings.

In addition, on both days of the Symposium, attendees formed breakout groups to engage in dialogue and debate and to make recommendations about the future of affirmative action.

The Outcome

The participants' breakout groups produced key themes, breakthrough ideas and recommendations that were recorded and later melded into the final Proceedings document. On the second day, the participants' recommendations were reported according to eight key topics that had emerged on day one:

  1. Power and Influence: Us and Others 
  2. Privilege and Entitlement
  3. Social Justice, Civil Rights and Economic Change
  4. Research, Empirical Evidence of EO/AA Impact
  5. Personal Transformation
  6. Shift in Educational Thinking
  7. Values, Dissonance and Ethics
  8. Human Rights

Conclusions and Next Steps

Most of the attendees agreed that we still need affirmative action, however imperfect, to ensure that our institutions represent the increasing diversity in the population. At the same time, affirmative action is not strong enough to create an inclusive society, concepts presented by Dr. Roosevelt Thomas such as workforce diversity and strategic diversity management are needed.

The groups concurred that we need a new way to frame the spirit and intent of affirmative action, but attendees were not ready to scrap the current language. They opted for better education about affirmative action.

Attendees were enthusiastic and hopeful about introducing the concept of human rights to reposition the principles of affirmative action, as presenter Karen Narasaki urged.

Attendees recommended that the work of diversity, affirmative action and equity professionals in the next 25 years target a list of actions as a means to develop an exit strategy from current affirmative-action programs. And they provided that list.

Finally, The Diversity Collegium, as a think tank of diversity professionals, decided to focus its work in 2005 on the study of human rights as a construct that may guide the future workplace and society on fairness and equity. Out of this process, the Collegium members hope that the next opportunity for collective dialogue will emerge.

To access the Executive Summary and the 2004 Symposium Proceedings, please visit our Publications page. The documents are available free of charge.