Jenny R. Yang, 45
Chair, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Hometown: Livingston, NJ
How did you get here?
My parents immigrated to this country from China, my mother when she was in third grade, and my father in graduate school. From as early as I can remember, both my parents were active in efforts to promote equality for Asian Americans. They showed my sister and me by their example, the importance of organizing the community --to provide a voice, as well as a helping hand for those who are most vulnerable. In high school and college, I developed a deep interest in the civil rights movement and realized that I wanted a career where I could focus on equal opportunity and non-discrimination. Working to expand opportunity for all drives the work of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, so I come to work each day inspired. Before joining the Commission, I was a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and represented employees across the country in complex civil rights and employment actions. Prior to that, I served as a Senior Trial Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Employment Litigation Section, where I enforced federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment by state and local government employers. I began my legal career at the National Employment Law Project, where I represented garment workers seeking to advance their workplace rights.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
My mother Sue Pai Yang is very much my inspiration and a big part of the reason I developed an interest in civil rights and employment work. From a young age, I saw my mother experience discrimination at work. By talking to her about these experiences, I saw how important work is to people’s lives and how critical it is to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect. What has inspired me most is how my mother responded to the discrimination that she confronted. She went to law school full-time when I was in elementary school. By raising concerns about the discrimination that she saw in her workplace, she opened the door for others who said they didn’t think they would have gotten the opportunities they did, if she hadn’t spoken up. My mother’s example – of standing up to injustice -- is one that inspires me in my work every day at the EEOC.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration?
The EEOC has had many significant accomplishments in recent years, and one of the key ones that I have focused on is strengthening our systemic program. Ten years ago in April 2006, the EEOC made systemic enforcement a national priority to address alleged discrimination where a pattern, practice or policy has a broad impact on an industry, occupation or geographic area. During my term as EEOC Chair, we improved nationwide coordination on key issues, focused on sustainable solutions, and shifted resources to systemic work to increase the impact of our efforts. Our systemic program has broken down structural barriers that limited opportunities based on race, national origin, gender, age and disability, and has produced lasting changes in workplace practices to prevent discrimination from recurring. By working with employers to remove discriminatory barriers to opportunity, we support stronger workplaces that fully utilize the talent of all workers.
Can you describe your time working for the Obama administration in 10 words?
“A privilege of a lifetime to work with extraordinary colleagues.”
Complete the sentence: “When I’m not working, I…”
“…am enthusiastically cheering on my sons who both play baseball and my husband who coaches their two Little League teams.”