Hear from civil servants who have fought workplace discrimination inside and outside of government
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Hear from civil servants who have fought workplace discrimination inside and outside of government

August 4, 2022

Federal agencies and non-government organizations continue to foster greater diversity, equity and inclusion in their workplaces. Unfortunately, instances of workplace discrimination and harassment still occur in both the public and private sectors today.

That’s why the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and its 53 field offices across the country investigate complaints of job discrimination and strive to advance equal opportunity for all in the workplace. 

Recently, our “Profiles in Public Service” podcast featured two longtime civil servants, Stuart Ishimaru and Jacinta Ma, who previously worked together at the EEOC and have dedicated their careers to upholding civil rights. In their conversation with co-hosts Loren DeJonge Schulman and Rachel Klein-Kircher, Ishimaru and Ma discussed:

  • How they have applied their law training to pursue “mission-driven work” in the federal government and with policy advocacy nonprofit organizations.
  • How they have worked to make EEOC resources more accessible and available for underserved populations and communities across the country.
  • How increased diversity and representation in the federal workforce has affected both their careers as Asian Americans.

Rebuilding an agency to better serve the public

As a former commissioner nominated by President George W. Bush in 2003, and then serving as acting chairman of the EEOC under President Obama from 2009 to 2010, Ishimaru is credited with rebuilding the agency, which had become underfunded and understaffed.

“There were choices that we made to increase hiring, to increase training [and] to bring more focused litigation on systemic cases—cases that make a bigger difference … [and] impact larger groups of people,” Ishimaru said.

Additionally, Ishimaru emphasized the commission’s critical role as a law enforcement agency to uphold civil rights and reflected on his work to redouble the agency’s efforts to tackle racial discrimination.

“One issue that came up at various times when I was at EEOC was ‘Who are we protecting?’” Ishimaru said. “This was an issue that was shared by both Republican and Democratic members of the commission, and we tried to get that focus to make sure that [the] EEOC was dealing with race [and racial discrimination] in employment.”

Putting a face to each claim received

Ma, a former senior advisor to Ishimaru, now serves as the EEOC’s director of the Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs. She described the need to put out reliable and easy-to-understand information so that “people understand what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and why we’re doing it.” 

Ma also described how those serving at the EEOC must always remember that behind each claim, there is a real-life person seeking justice and accountability.

“When people come in the door to file a charge, they want to know that we are paying attention, that we’re investigating their charge and that we’re giving them a fair shake because they’ve come in looking for help. …We really think about each charge filed as a person. There’s a person behind the story behind the piece of paper.”

How to listen

Tune in to this episode and others from “Profiles in Public Service” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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