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President earns standing ovation at conference for women in higher ed

Norcal graphic with Pres Napolitano

UC President Janet Napolitano has some words of wisdom for women seeking leadership positions:

“If you want to be a leader, you have to have the courage to believe that you can be one. Believing is the first requirement of achieving. Then, and this is just as important, you have to have the courage to get in the game.”

Napolitano was keynote speaker at the American Council on Education Northern California (ACE-NorCal) Women’s Network Leadership Conference, held Oct. 13 at the Marriott Oakland City Center.

She was a big draw: The event sold out in seven days and, with 260 registrants, it broke all previous attendance records by more than 100. After a candid question-and-answer session that followed the address, the crowd gave the president an enthusiastic standing ovation.

“As UC’s first woman president and a nationally renowned public leader, Janet Napolitano was our obvious choice to be this year’s keynote speaker,” said Jenny Kao, executive director of Issues Management, Policy Analysis & Coordination (IMPAC) at UCOP. “She’s an exemplary figure for women everywhere, but particularly for women who aspire to leadership positions in higher education.”

With support from UCOP, the ACE-NorCal Women’s Network Board and the UC President’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women (PACSW) co-hosted this year’s conference. Kao and UC Merced Associate Chancellor Luanna Putney served as conference co-chairs, and both sit on the ACE-NorCal Women’s Network Board. UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi is the current ACE NorCal Presidential Sponsor.

Napolitano’s address focused on the theme of this year’s conference: “Culture, Change, Courage — Women’s Leadership in Higher Education.” While gender is not relevant to talent or leadership ability, she said, gender issues are still a factor in the workplace.

“On the one hand, women need to make the case that gender does not matter when it comes to their leadership abilities, their skill set and their judgment. On the other hand, women need to make the case that gender does matter.”

In the course of her talk, Napolitano emphasized the importance of having a good mentor to provide support and guidance. She also said that her past year as UC president has been one of the most fulfilling of her life. “I can’t wait to come into work every morning,” she said, “and it’s not just because I no longer have a 7 a.m. CIA briefer waiting for me.”

The ACE NorCal Network was established by the former Office of Women in Higher Education (OWHE) of the American Council on Education (ACE), part of a nationwide effort to increase the number of women in higher education leadership and policy-making positions

Most of the attendees at this year’s ACE-NorCal conference came from UC campuses in Northern California, UCOP and CSU campuses, with a few from community colleges and private universities. Participants ranged from faculty and academic administrators to senior administrators and staff.


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  1. Kathleen Quenneville October 14, 2014 Reply

    President Napolitano’s keynote participation in the conference was generous, candid and inspiring. Thank you!

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