The program seeks to take a proactive approach towards equity in the workplace.

Future Leaders Initiative aims to improve corporate diversity in Southern California

October 25, 2022 • By The UCI Paul Merage School of Business

It’s no secret that many industries in Orange County can benefit from diversity. There is a growing body of research showing the bottom line benefits of diversity throughout the workforce. In an effort to take advantage of these bottom line benefits and address the talent pipeline issue, businesses have changed how they search for job candidates and other recruitment efforts, and the state has enacted policies to encourage wage transparency and diversity in corporate leadership.Much of these efforts seek to address the problem from the top-down. But, the Merage School is aiming to be proactive with its launch of the Future Leaders Initiative (FLI) this year. 

While touring local high schools, Dean Ian O. Williamson discovered the impact of issues of equity at a young age.

“I noticed in the accounting classes and the technology classes, even if the school population was primarily made up of minority students, those classes simply did not have Black or Latinx students who are taking them,” Dean Williamson said. “I began to think, how can we solve this? How do we create demand in these individuals so they feel like those are the classes and that's the pathway for them to get excited about?”

To help solve the issue, Dean Williamson came up with the Future Leaders Initiative program, which guides, inspires, and empowers high school and community college students from Southern California’s underserved communities. He believes the program will help redefine the pipeline of talent in the business world over the next decade.

During the six-week certificate course, students learn about entrepreneurship and innovation by taking part in simulations and group activities, and listening to lectures from renowned faculty members and business leaders. The program aims to nurture the curiosity of each student as they learn about various careers in technology and business.

The program not only exposes students to new possibilities, but strengthens the talent pool by providing companies with decision makers from diverse backgrounds, worldviews and passions.

During the inaugural program this summer, the Merage School partnered with several businesses, including LandSpire Group, We Global Studios, and PIMCO.

Javier Romo, executive vice president and emerging markets portfolio manager at PIMCO, believes that the program is valuable for prospective students and local employers. In particular, the dynamic program aligns with PIMCO’s goals to foster better diversity in the workplace. He said young people from underrepresented communities may not be aware of the potential jobs they could pursue in the financial sector, so a program like the Future Leaders Initiative can have a transformational impact on participants’ lives. 

“We were very excited to participate in the program,” Javier said. “I was particularly struck by the enthusiasm of the kids. They were all engaged and asked thoughtful questions. Also by taking part in the program, we're not only helping these underrepresented groups, we're also helping companies and employers diversify their employee base. That’s important because it provides more diverse views, which can only result in better outcomes.”

Javier also said that it was fulfilling for him to take part in the program because of his own background.

“I am of Hispanic descent and I have my own story,” he said. “I've been lucky enough to do well and prosper in an industry of which I didn't know much about when I started. So, seeing that there's kids out there who are starting to show some interest and are excited about exploring this field, by helping them it makes me feel like I’m adding a little bit of value.”

Learning from distinguished professionals like Javier, students from the first cohort found the program to be revelatory.

“The Future Leaders Initiative allowed me to explore various career paths that I could potentially envision myself pursuing,” said student Andrew Rodriguez. “One particular field that I found eye opening was the space of medical technology. Hearing how gradual the progression is compared to consumer technology allowed me to brainstorm some questions. Luckily, FLI invited experienced professionals within the healthcare space to answer all my questions and provide future assistance with my business endeavors.“

Samueli Academy student Sean Doomun has always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but the Future Leaders Initiative showed him how to leverage his talents into a career. Sean has also expanded his business network by using his newly-acquired communication skills and the connections he made during the program.

“Throughout the FLI sessions, I was able to develop a confidence in myself that I know I want to create and run my own startup,” he said. “One of the greatest things I learned that I didn’t know at all before FLI is that being a likeable and effective leader is as simple as sparking genuine interest in those you delegate tasks to.”

Now, Sean is aiming to give back to future business leaders by mentoring and providing crucial guidance to other students who go through the Future Leaders Initiative. His primary piece of advice: be curious.

“Throughout the program I used the platform given to me and the immense knowledge that speakers and faculty had to answer any questions that I had,” Sean said. “The speakers and faculty at FLI have the knowledge and experience to facilitate your curiosity, so I would advise students to be curious. These students can prove to be assets to innovative companies.”

For more information about the Future Leaders Initiative, please visit