Stuart Ishimaru and Jacinta Ma, two longtime civil servants, join “Profiles in Public Service” to discuss their careers advocating for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce both inside and outside of government. Ishimaru and Ma worked together at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to uphold civil rights and enforce federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace. Both guests discuss their decisions to apply their law training to pursue mission-driven work in the federal government and with policy advocacy nonprofits, how increased diversity and representation has impacted both the federal workforce and their careers as Asian Americans, and how the EEOC continues to expand its reach and access to its resources for populations and communities across the country.
About our speakers:
- Stuart Ishimaru worked as a former commissioner at the EEOC, nominated by President George W. Bush in 2003, and as acting chairman of the agency under President Obama.
- Jacinta Ma served as a former senior advisor to Ishimaru while he was acting chairman and is now the current director of the Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs at the EEOC.
- Watch Ishimaru’s testimony before Congress in support of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.
- Follow @USEEOC on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
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Loren DeJonge Schulman: From the Partnership for Public Service, this is Profiles in Public Service—a podcast that shares the stories of the public servants who work on our behalf every day to make our country safer, healthier and more prosperous.
We talk to career public servants, emerging leaders, journalists and more to better understand what it means to be a public servant… the incredible variety of careers possible in government… and how public service impacts all our lives.
I’m Loren DeJonge Schulman,
Rachel Klein-Kircher: And I’m Rachel Klein-Kircher. This week we will be hearing from two incredible public servants who have worked together to uphold civil rights and enforce federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace.
First, we are joined by Stuart Ishimaru, a longtime civil servant who was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve as a member of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2003. The EEOC is a federal agency that investigates complaints of job discrimination and works to advance equal opportunity for all in the workplace.
Stuart served on the commission until 2012, also working as acting chairman under President Obama from 2009 to 2010.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: As a leader at the EEOC, Stuart emphasized the commission’s critical role as a law enforcement agency, worked to redouble the agency’s efforts to tackle race discrimination issues, and improved access to the EEOC and its services for underserved populations and communities across the country.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: We are also joined today by another exceptional public servant, Jacinta Ma, who has worked both inside and outside of government to advance equity and justice for all communities.
Jacinta is the EEOC’s current director of the Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs, and previously worked as a senior advisor to Stuart.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: At the EEOC, Jacinta worked to develop and implement a commission-wide initiative on race and helped coordinate the drafting of the agency’s plan for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Her experiences in government also include serving as a senior policy advisor in the Office of the First Lady, Michelle Obama.
Welcome Stuart and Jacinta!
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Thank you so much for joining us today, Loren and I are excited to have this opportunity to share your stories, and we’d love to start by hearing what inspired each of you to pursue a career in public service? And then specifically with the federal government? We’ll start with you Stuart.
Stuart Ishimaru: So I went to school in the seventies, college in the seventies and grew up in the sixties. At that time people wanted to do good guy work I think generally. And I was exploring ways to do that. My father said, you know, you should go out and make a lot of money and make a decent living. But I decided that I wanted to do good guy work. So, I was searching for that after I finished law school. And was able to go back to Capitol Hill where I was an intern during law school and, found a job with the Civil Rights Subcommittee in the House, which turns out to be a fabulous job. It gave me opportunities to work on civil rights issues. So, for me, ending up on Capitol Hill was a great opportunity.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: And how about you Jacinta?
I definitely didn’t know that I wanted to work for the federal government. When I started to think about my career path I really wanted to help people, and trying to figure out, you know, my whole course of my career has been trying to figure out, you know, how are my talents and my disposition best suited to do that?
So how I ended up in federal government was really circumstances and a lot of luck. I started out at law school and I did a federal clerkship. That was my first experience in government. And after that clerkship, I started to think about what is it that I wanted to do next. And I, think because the first time I went to Washington DC, and, you know, as a child was really inspired, right? The buildings are so, impressive and everything was just so inspiring. And so I always had this romanticized view of how great it would be to be in Washington DC and to be, you know, part of all those amazing institutions that did such good work.
And so, you know, when I was thinking about after my clerkship, what should I do? I thought you. I think it would be really great to work in the Clinton Administration. Now, I didn’t know exactly what that meant. Right? And so, I just applied to all the federal government agencies that I thought sounded kind of interesting.
Right, I’m not a math science person. So of course, it was all of the domestic agencies. And I just applied, like, I didn’t even know what I was doing. So, I applied to the general counsel’s offices. I applied to, you know, just blanket resumes and I mailed them out and I got one, interview. And it was with the Department of Education in their general counsel’s office. And so I ended up doing an interview, sounded really great, and that was my first job and my first foray into federal government. I learned so much about how it works. I was a regulations attorney. And so it put you at the intersection of policy and law and it was a really great experience.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: It’s so great to know that, you know, both of you talk about embarking on this, you know, on your career paths, not necessarily knowing what was going to happen and, you know, fast forward all these years, we know that you both have these tremendously successful, fulfilling careers that we’re about to hear about.
And Jacinta, you shed some light a little bit on this and Stuart, from your perspective, how did your training as, as a lawyer support your career in public service?
Stuart Ishimaru: Well, most of the early jobs that I went into were actually lawyer jobs. So, when I worked on Capitol Hill, I was counsel to a committee and everyone there was a lawyer and we dealt with laws in the, in the Judiciary Committee as well as oversight of federal government agencies, including the Department of Justice, you know, can I add that when I started, the thought of joining the federal government for me was a non-starter. It was not appealing to me to go work for the Reagan administration as a civil servant lawyer during a time when you were in the opposition that was not of interest to me.
What I learned later when I worked at DOJ during the Clinton years was that the hiring there was very structured, very orderly, and they really got the cream of the crop. Now I wouldn’t have gotten a job at DOJ during the Clinton administration as a civil service lawyer because they were really good and you know, it really showed me that historically year in and year out, the people who they hired were really first rate and really talented people. And I have found that generally within the federal government that people come to it with strong backgrounds and good training and they are ready to serve the public. So, you know, that, that being said, when I came out of school, You know, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And there were sort of limited paths of what I wanted to do anyway. So you know, I’m glad I found a job, you know, it could have been a waiter I guess. And had done that some during law school.
Jacinta Ma: And I found my training as a lawyer to be really helpful in the government. One, it opens up a different pool of jobs so that’s always helpful. And when you’re a lawyer in the government, there are a lot of interesting ways that you can go. You can do policy, you can do actual like real law work that is government policy work. You can also just do regular law work that you might do for a company because the federal government is an employer.
And so there’s just a wide range of things that you can do and see, and experience as a lawyer in the government. And I think for me, even though right now, I’m doing a job that isn’t a legal job I direct the Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs, the EEOC has a lot of lawyers in the agency. And so working with those lawyers, understanding what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, being able to translate what they’re saying into a, a way that might be more accessible to the public, the legal training has been really helpful for that. And so I definitely think it’s been a good background to have.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Stuart, I want to talk a little bit about some of your most exciting, most prominent good guy work that you did in the federal government. Particularly your time as acting chairman of the EEOC. So during that time, just for our listeners, you are credited with quote rebuilding the EEOC, which at the time had become underfunded.
It had staffing challenges. Tell me about the work that you did then, how did you go about that process of rejuvenating that really important agency?
Stuart Ishimaru: Well, it was an exciting time, you know? A new president had come in, President Obama. People were, were very excited about the possibilities I was there as one of the Democratic commissioners and we, we had an opportunity to get a new start under new leadership. And for my time as acting chair, which actually went on for over a year it was a chance to start that rebuilding process getting more money from the Congress, doing hiring giving training to our people, all things that for better or worse didn’t happen during my preceding years there under President Bush and, you know, we made a hard push to make that happen. And there were choices that we made to increase hiring to increase training, to bring more litigation and more focused litigation on systemic cases, cases that make a bigger difference. That I think helped. And I think it, it put us on a very different path than we were on.
As I found though, that running an agency is hard, right? There are lots of little things that come up and my Republican chair when I first started, she told me, you know, you have no idea what it’s like to, to run this place. And you know what, she was right. It was hard. And we tried to do good and we tried to do it within the various parameters that were laid out. But I think we started the path on putting the agency on good footing to do the work that it was intended to do.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: So I’d love to unpack that a little bit for our listeners around that good work that the EEOC does. Why is the EEOC important? What makes it the most effective in enforcing civil rights? What are some of the key functions that it does?
Stuart Ishimaru: Well, they serve as the center point for dealing with employment discrimination and people use the EEOC to complain about cases of employment discrimination, whether it’s in the private sector or public sector, there’s a system in place to do investigations, to find out whether something has happened.
The EEOC investigates these cases and in, in certain instances actually brings about litigation. But, but it also serves as a funnel to make sure that people have a case and then many people have their own private right to sue, which they do. And I think that was the system that Congress laid out back in, in 1964, when the EEOC was, was created as part of this 1964 Civil Rights Act.
It’s a good model I think. Could there be better models? Probably. But then the EEOC would be huge and probably much bigger than anyone could ever imagine. This is a combination of both public and private partnership, of dealing with the case of employment discrimination, which still goes on today.
I think the expansion of jurisdiction over the years covering many other groups has made the EEOC more important as time went on.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: A lot of the work that you did there when you were acting chairman and beyond was in building up those core strengths of the EEOC building up those key ingredients that make it effective. Can you talk a little bit about some of that, whether the hiring initiatives or other things that you did to build up the capacity within the agency?
Stuart Ishimaru: Well, I, I think fundamentally you needed a fair number of people to do the work. And I think that had withered over time. I had seen it happen in various government agencies over the years where it, they did not grow or people were not trained.
And, you know, we made a concerted effort in that first year to get people hired in our various offices around the country so that we could deal with the various issues that were out there. And I think that was important to do. But also getting people trained is so important and it shows how the federal government can take full advantage of its people, by giving them fundamental training and, and getting them honed to do the good work that’s out there.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Stuart, when we think about the social issues that we grapple with today, and in many cases are still grappling with today. People don’t always know about the efforts that came before. You were the first administration official to testify before Congress in 2009 in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and that would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. So this was 2009 and here we are 2022. Why was it important for you to testify on behalf of this issue at the time?
Stuart Ishimaru: Well, it was a great opportunity to finally get on the record that any administration was, was willing to support this important piece of legislation. You know, I stepped back to my time on Capitol Hill and, and my time working at DOJ during the Clinton administration and how the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity had not evolved as far as it had.
Being able to testify proactively in support of this bill, I think was really important. And at the time it was the early part of the administration. Various people weren’t totally in place yet. I was happy to do it. And I was glad that the administration was taking that approach of supporting this bill.
I supported it personally, right. And to have the administration, you know, support this bill, on a broad basis was very encouraging. So I was happy to do it. There very well could have been other messengers to do it, but I was in place, and did it.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Is there another experience while we’re here sharing your story that you would love to for our listeners to hear about from your time, either as commissioner or as acting chairman at the EEOC that you’d like to share?
Stuart Ishimaru: Well, you know, one issue that came up at various times when I was at EEOC was, you know, who are we protecting? And now the EEOC has a broad mandate to cover, various issues race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity. I remember going to the field office in Atlanta and they were telling me about what they were doing.
This was, early in my term at the EEOC during the Bush years. And they told me about all the wonderful things that they were doing and the people they were helping. And you know, it, it was good as far as it went. What struck me though was they didn’t mention race. And here we were in Atlanta, Georgia, around the corner from, from Dr. King’s church, center of the civil rights movement.
So, I asked, what about race? What are we doing? And, you know, didn’t get much of an answer. They said, you know, this is what comes in through the door. And I, you know, I sort of shrugged my shoulders and said, you know, I bet I could walk around the block here and gather within that walk a number of stories, complaints, problems that people had involving race and racial discrimination in employment. And this was an issue that was shared by, by both Republican and Democratic members of the commission. And I think we tried to get that focus to make sure that EEOC was dealing with race issues.
You know, another thing was also bringing an Asian American perspective to the EEOC. My predecessor Paul Iwasaki did a nice job of being there for a number of years raising issues involving Asian Americans. And I think that certainly paved the way for, for me and our office, you know, to do more. And quite often those issues weren’t raised, the nuances weren’t addressed, that was something we were proud of doing as well.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Jacinta, you’ve had an incredible career of really amazing varied but I think really fascinatingly intersecting experiences. You’ve had a career in state and federal government, but I also am fascinated by and would love to hear more about your role in the advocacy space and the nonprofit space. You’ve spent time at the National Immigration Forum, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Can you tell me, how is your experience on this side of the house, on the advocacy side of policy work, often on behalf of Asian American communities, how is that intersected with your government work? How has it maybe benefited your government work in some ways?
Jacinta Ma: My advocacy work has always been in DC. And so when you’re doing national advocacy, a lot of the focus is on government and government policy. So it definitely has been relevant and it’s been really, I think, useful to have done that work. So after I got my first job, at the Department of Education, I ended up working at a nonprofit, working on Asian American civil rights issues.
So I went back to that organization again later in my career. And so I’ve done the career path where you go into advocacy and you also bring that work to government and sort of have seen both sides of it. And so I think that that’s been really useful as an advocate: understanding the government perspective; understanding how hard it is to make things happen; understanding why things happen in the way they do; and understanding the process for making things happen is really useful as an advocate and trying to do things. And on the flip side, as a government employee it’s really important to understand where the advocates are coming from, why are they pushing, what are they asking for? And also to understand that sometimes advocates don’t understand everything that’s happening in government. And so there there’s frustration and being able to understand that, to hear that, and to try to explain things I think is really useful.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: There’s so much that goes on in the public policy space that is just like star crossed lovers. Like if only they could actually communicate clearly and in the same language, in the same place and on the same parameters we might be in, in a better spot. So I think having those perspectives and be able to move fluidly between each of them is so valuable.
I’m actually curious since you have been on both sides of the coin of the federal space, as well as the advocacy space, what are the most challenging elements of both?
Jacinta Ma: I think on the inside since I’m there, the most challenging parts of working in the government is how deliberate and often slow things are it takes a lot to make a change, even if it’s a small change. And there’s just a lot of people who are concerned about every action that an agency takes.
And so a lot of people want to have input and provide advice about everything that happens. And so it is, it is very deliberate. It is very slow. But the, the great part about working in the government is the impact. There’s just potential for so much more impact reaching so many more people. For example, when I was working at one of my nonprofits, we would look at our metrics, right?
We’d look at when we put out a fact sheet or an education piece, how many people are looking at this? You know, how many people are visiting our website, just because when you write stuff, you want to know that somebody’s reading it and you know, we would look at the end of the year and say, oh wow, like a million people looked at our website.
This is fabulous. And so when I got to the EEOC, I said, okay, let me see what the metrics are here, because it’s a, it’s a good indication of how, how many people are you reaching? What are you, what, what are you doing? And in a week we get about 500,000 people visiting our web page.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Wow.
Jacinta Ma: And so when you think about the exponential impact, it’s really amazing, right?
It can’t compare. And so I think that that’s something to always keep in mind. It’s like, you know, there’s just a much bigger platform working in the federal government and the same thing with a policy change. You make a small policy change it can have a much larger impact. And so I think that is the tradeoff.
Whereas, you know, when you work in the advocacy community or where you’re working outside of the government, things can move faster. You can do more advocacy, right? You really can say, exactly what you’re thinking. You can hold to a position. There’s no need to try to come to a, a decision point that everyone can agree on and, and move forward with.
So I think being outside is, definitely, easier in some ways, but also it takes a lot more to have the kind of impact that you could have in the government through a small change.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: I think that balance thereof on the outside you’ve got the agility, the responsiveness that you’ve got, the, the connection in some ways more closely to what the community you’re representing, whereas in government it’s that impact piece. And it’s hard to marry those two into one organization, which is why it’s so critical to be able to have those conversations across both sides.
Jacinta Ma: Yeah. And definitely the idea that you are closer to other people and real people who are impacted, in the advocacy community that’s definitely true. And I think you gain a different perspective than you do when you’re in the government, because you are talking to people who are impacted talking to them daily, and, and that really brings a different sort of urgency to the, the work that you’re doing.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: So staying on the theme of impact and, and tying to leadership and back to what Stuart was saying earlier, and just this enormous responsibility, this question of who are we protecting and asking that question, you know, within the position of authority that you had, what about race and, you know, having others to come in and bring perspectives from different walks of life. So I would love to hear from each of you and we can start with you, Stuart. To what extent have you seen opportunities for more diversity in the leadership ranks in the federal government over the past few decades?
Stuart Ishimaru: I think there’s been good growth within the federal government. A good focus on trying to make leadership more diverse. You know, generally speaking, the federal government was a driver at creating diversity through the civil service system of hiring fairly and hiring broadly. People knew that they should be able to get a fair shot looking for federal employment. I think that was good. I think one of the roadblocks was, do people rise up and do people have the opportunity to advance in the federal system. It’s also a question of politics. And I think in recent years, having the focus on trying to get the political leadership more diverse was actually a good thing because it opened up new talent pools to the political brances to try to find people who had not been included before. I know both during the Clinton and the Obama administrations, as well as in the second Bush administration, there was a push to try to get more people from diverse communities involved in the process in political leadership positions.
And I think that helped a lot. I think it’s important to get people there who understand the struggles that various groups have that haven’t been there before. And I think, by having new people, new faces, new perspectives, you really gain a better grip on the problems that many Americans are facing today.
And you know, that helps.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Jacinta to same question to you, but also if you want to also share how have these changes, if they have, influenced your own career path.
Jacinta Ma: I’d just like to echo what Stuart said, that representation is really important. And having people who are Asian Americans in leadership positions has been important to me. It helps for us to understand and see that, you know, people who look like me are able to do these jobs that they’re respected.
That there’s a place for you in, in an organization. I mean, we all believe in going to work and doing a good job and I think everyone wants to be able to look around and say like, oh, I think I can do well here. I think there are people who look like me and who, you know, had experiences that I’ve had and they’re doing well here. And having that kind of representation is really important. For me working for Stuart was fabulous being able to see somebody who was so well respected in the Asian American community as a mentor and somebody to look up to was just really a great experience. And, I think looking at agencies now and how they’re doing in, in their representation we definitely see more. I recently heard a statistic that there’s something like over 400 Asian American appointees in this administration. And thinking back to when I first started in government, and I was at the Department of Education. I can’t even really think of anybody. And they may have been, but I can’t remember anybody who was an Asian American appointee that I knew.
And I remember there weren’t that many Asian American career staff at the time. I think I was the second person, Asian American, they had hired in the general counsel’s office at the Department of Education at that time. And so, just seeing the representation grow is, is really great. And research has shown that having diverse teams makes teams perform better.
And that’s diversity in all sorts of ways. And so I think Asian American diversity is definitely important.
Stuart Ishimaru: Yeah, the secret is hiring well, and I was able to do that and, and lure people in to work with us. And we actually both had a good time and we got good work done. You know, when I started working in the Congress in the eighties there were very few Asian Americans working on Capitol Hill. There were some members of Congress, some had been there for a good period of time, but very few staff people.
And I think watching the growth of staff, people both on Capitol Hill, in the federal agencies has been very gratifying and I think it’s really drawn a new cadre of people to, to public service. I remember in the eighties telling people that I was going to work for the Congress and, you know, growing up in California, my friends asked me, why do you want to do that?
You know, why do you want to live in Washington for, you know, a, a good while? Why do you want to work doing public work, why not get a real job? And I said, because the work is important, and I think that’s changed within the Asian American community. People understanding the importance of doing this sort of work.
And we’ve seen that within various Asian groups of people understanding why it’s important to do public service work, how people can, can craft a career out of it, and I’ve just been gratified seeing the numbers of people come to Washington and into government at all levels. And that’s been great to see..
Loren DeJonge Schulman: So, I want to zoom out a little bit on this, but still focus on this the connection between the American people and government and what that relationship looks like.
So, the Partnership released a report a couple of months ago around trust in government. We’ve known that there’s been challenges with Americans trust and their government for a long time. But what we tried to drill down on was when you actually talk about the work of public servants, when you talk about the work of agencies, how do Americans feel about that? And probably no surprise to either of you, they feel much more positively when you talk about agencies, when you talk about services, when you talk about individual civil servants, it’s not, you know, winning the popularity contest, but it’s much more positive views than just about government as a whole. So, you know, you’ve both with your connection to the EEOC.
I’d love to hear about how you think the EEOC as a federal agency can build on those findings, can help build trust with current and prospective employees and also just the American public more broadly.
Jacinta Ma: President Biden has issued an executive order about customer service and for an agency like the E E O C. I think that is one of the key things because people come in the door, they file a charge, they want to know that, that we are paying attention, that, that we’re investigating their charge, that we’re giving them, a fair shake, right.
Because they’ve come in, they’re looking for help. And that is, to me, one of the main ways that we can continue to build trust is to make sure that we are serving the people who are coming to us, looking for help in the best way possible. And I know that we really think about each charge filed as a person.
There’s a person behind the story behind the piece of paper. Beyond that in my job in the office of communications and legislative affairs, it’s really important that we put out really reliable information that’s easily understood. So people understand what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, why we’re doing it.
And also thinking about our relationship with the media. Viewing them as a stakeholder, as opposed to an organization to be suspicious of. Right. I think that there’s oftentimes a lot of concern about what are they going to say? Are they going to write a gotcha article? But if viewing the media as a stakeholder and providing information, trying to be transparent, all of these things I think will help to build trust.
And then I think in, in the government, one of the important things is to deal with the public and take in different opinions and really trying to understand where is this person coming from? What is their perspective? Why are they saying the things they’re saying? And, and giving that kind of understanding as opposed to trying to view people, people suspiciously but really seeing people as wanting to have a better society wanting to have a better EEOC in, in this case and, and taking the information that people are giving us in a, in that manner, as opposed to just dismissing what people have to say, but really understanding and, and valuing their opinion.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Stuart.
Stuart Ishimaru: I think too, that you want to make sure that the EEOC is actually doing things on a broader systemic basis to, to bring pieces of litigation that matter, that impact larger groups of people and not just dealing with individual cases, going after areas where other people aren’t equipped to go after, employment discrimination.
For a variety of reasons, EEOC is well suited to play that role in coming up with rules and regulations and guidances that will help employers understand what their responsibilities are at large. And I think that institutional role also creates trust by people generally that E E O C is a leader at ferreting out employment discrimination, giving employers what they need to know, so they don’t do it.
Right. The, the harder question is how do you do this at scale? How do you do it to try to root out discrimination now that’s been prohibited 50 plus years? Right. And, you know, EEOC has ebbed and flowed over the years in what leadership role it takes. And I think that’s an opportunity that the agency has right now to make things happen in a positive way in, in showing that it’s able to understand the current issues that are out there and to address them, to try to get to the point where, you know, you might not need an EEOC and you know, as much as we would want that to happen, we’re not there yet. I, I think the caseload there shows that there are many people who have legitimate cases of concern and EEOC is, is well suited to deal with those cases.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Stuart I love your vision of, you know, many public servants, many public roles, many public agencies ultimately want to work themselves out of a job, want to work themselves out of a mission and that, and that takes an incredible amount of work. But you know, the, the good guy jobs, the good guy roles that you talked about or good gal roles, that you talked about the beginning of our conversation is also put you at the forefront of stress and crisis and doing hard work. Hard work in serving a community valuable work, but still stressful work.
I want to ask you both about resiliency in the face of that, because we are talking about necessary and good things that need to be done, but also things that are ultimately difficult, both probably personally, as well as in the broader profession. How do you maintain resiliency in the face of that? I’d love to hear from both of you on that.
Stuart Ishimaru: Well you know, it’s both hard and exhilarating to hear about these issues, right? Because when you hear whatever problems people are facing and facing them directly and personally. You can’t help, but be impacted by that and, you know, affected by it. That being said I think the thing that gave me strength and gave me energy was knowing that this agency in other places where I worked had some ability to impact that and, and to try to make it better and we didn’t always succeed, but we were able to tap into those resources to try to make change happen. And I think when I look back now at the arc of the time that I served some of the areas where we’ve made progress are tremendous because a lot of people worked on it.
When, when I think back to the issue of sexual orientation and going to meetings at the Clinton White House where, you know, these were hard issues, they were politically fraught. Getting people to understand that these were important issues that needed to be addressed was not easy and fast forward to my time at EEOC, especially towards the end of my tenure there, when the EEOC started to deal with these issues because members of the commission on both sides of the aisle understood the need to deal with it seeing the progress that people were willing to engage on these issues was very gratifying. And I think the EEOC really has been a leader in making change happen here and happen fairly quickly.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Jacinta.
Jacinta Ma: I think you don’t go into a civil rights career unless you are somewhat of an optimist.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Yeah.
Jacinta Ma: I think also we look at the, the long history, right? You know, the arc of history bends towards justice. And I think as we look at that history, as we look at the civil rights movement, we always, you know, we see progress.
It’s not always forward progress. Sometimes you step back, but, you know, over the arc of time, we have seen progress as Stuart was talking about. And that is something that helps keep me inspired and resilient and continuing to work for civil rights. You know, we, we just keep working at it and also thinking about the small victories.
Every step of progress is a step of progress. Every inch is an inch and all those inches they add up to feet. Feet add up to miles. Just keeping that in mind helps to keep me going when it seems like the work is hard. We can only do as much as we can, but we definitely hold onto those small moments and understand that sometimes they’re big victories, but sometimes it’s just the small victories that add up to something.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: So as a final question you both talked about getting into your careers without necessarily having a clear path and knowing what that was going to look like. And Jacinta, you also described so many different possibilities even for a lawyer within the federal government. So what advice and we’ll start with you, Jacinta, would you each give to our listeners who might be earlier in their careers and they’re considering opportunities to work for the federal government or in public service in general?
Jacinta Ma: Try lots of different things. I think it’s good to try different things because not everyone is suited for the same environment. And so having a bit of an understanding of what different jobs are, what really works with your own personality, where do you feel like you can best contribute is a good thing to figure out.
I do think everyone should try to work in the federal government at some point it’s a good job. The pay, the benefits, the hours. I mean, it’s great.
It’s also just really great to work in a mission driven environment. Everyone who’s working in the government is there because they want to help improve our country. They want our country to do well. They want us to succeed. They want it to be good. And so, you know, whether you’re a policy person or doing HR or IT, you know, things that you could do in any environment. The folks who are in the government still really believe in the mission and you know, are working towards the public good.
And lastly, as Stuart had said, it is hard work to govern. And I think it’s easy to criticize. It’s really easy to oppose things and I think everyone should try their hand at trying to govern or better understanding why governing is, is so hard.
Stuart Ishimaru: I would tell young people starting off today that you want to find jobs that you’re working for good people who treat you well and will give you opportunities. And it may not be at the most prestigious agency or place. You want to find something that will give you satisfaction and give you the room to, to make your mark.
And you can usually tell that from the people you’re working for and working with. Will you have that opportunity? And I think that’s what I found over the years. I’ve been really lucky in being able to find people that I enjoyed working with and enjoyed working for. They gave me room to run with and room to, to hang with, I guess if it didn’t work out, but that actually made a huge difference.
And I know friends and colleagues may have taken other paths where it looked good on paper and it looked, you know, people thought you should do X, Y, or Z so they did that. And quite often they came back later and asked, you know, I don’t really like doing this. So, you know, help me find a better path.
And certainly, when I found paths where good people were there surrounding you and above you, you, you really had a, a chance to shine. And I think what I found within the government generally is that there are a lot of opportunities there working with good people and, people who really could do anything that they wanted to do, but chose to do this, this kind of work and doing good guy work, really puts you in a stead to deal with a whole range of issues. And most of it at the end of the day is very satisfying.
Well, it’s a tribute to your partnership, that the two of you came back together to speak with us today. And we just want to thank you so much for doing this podcast and really for your service over the years. Just incredible work that you’ve done. Thank you.
Stuart Ishimaru: Thank you.
Loren DeJonge Schulman:
Rachel, I love how Stuart described his work and that I guess really his career as good guy work though I want to be clear that like there’s a lot of room for good gal work in that space as well.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Good people.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Yeah! Good people work that like, this is why, I mean, he talked about the era he grew up and that like, when you went into this space going into the legal profession, that’s what you wanted to do.
You wanted to go out and serve somehow. And I had this mental image, I think we’ve talked about this before I had this mental image of like Stuart and Jacinta as like, we’re part of the Avengers we’re superheroes that we’re going in every day. I mean, that’s been true with so many of the conversations that we’ve had, but at EEOC like that you are truly taking on bad things that happen in the workplace in order to fight for justice for people like what an incredible emblematic moment of that.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah. And when he said back in the day, a few decades ago, people in his community didn’t understand why do you want to go work in government? And he said, and now they get it.
Someone has to be representing and the fact that he was the one back then to bring up this question, you know, who are we protecting?
Well, what about race? What are we doing? And having others to bring in different perspectives and the Asian American perspective and having that representation just so vitally important. So, you know, to understand issues that everyone is facing. That whole, you know, how it comes back around. Why do you want to serve government? Oh, I see why you want to serve government. It’s so critical to influencing these things.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Stuart also actually both of them, Stuart and Jacinta also made a incredible compelling case for something that is a big pet rock of mine is like, you can have best policy guidance in the world. You can have great strategy. You can have great speeches. You have great objectives. You have got to have the people and the capacity and the process to go out and implement that for you.
And the fact that that was a big part of Stuart’s legacy is rebuilding the EEOC to take on this incredibly important mission on enforcing civil rights laws. Like to be able to marry those two and have somebody who sees the connectivity and the vitality of making sure that both of them are mature and understood like that to me, is such a huge win for the federal government to have leaders like that.
And a model that really, really needs to be followed in other spaces.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah, absolutely. And then Jacinta able to, to take the work forward to the next step, you know, when you had referenced Loren, the, the partnerships report on trust.
And asking, how can the EEOC continue to build trust with employees and communities? And she referenced the Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience.
And you think about, wow, this is coming from the white house. Like what a statement that this is coming from the highest seat in government. How important that is. And then her example of their mindset at EEOC that I, I loved it. She said each charge filed is a person. Each piece of paper is someone’s story.
And you think about that mindset and those right people that Stuart talked about hiring and getting in there to do this work.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: That to me like that each case each policy that you’re doing, like at the end of that is a person in some way. Often when you work in the policy space, you’re writing these really great memos and it sounds awesome, and are using, you know, very authoritative language and it gets signed off and approved. But you have to remember, like, not only who you’re going to be impacting down the line, but also the implementers and between the two of them, you could see and hear in their voices, this deep and profound connection to the people whose lives are going to be changed and shaped by the work that they did, but also the recognition as we’re talking about now of all of the critical, basically the foot soldiers or the EEOC, who have to go out and launch that and execute it and pursue it in some ways.
So their deep connection to the people on both ends of the policy implementation, but also the customers is just incredible. And I think something that happens a lot more in the federal government than people recognize like that connection to the customer. Government for the people.
This is why we’re here. Too often, they see them as like the faceless bureaucrats, the people who are not connected and they’re so deeply connected. It’s incredible.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah. And Jacinta to had said, you know, as an attorney, even though I’m not in an attorney capacity right now, I can speak the language to my fellow attorneys so that everything isn’t coming across in legalese and we are thinking about the people, which makes me think of the, our conversation with Jamie Rome and talking about
weather. How do you talk about that to the community in a way that will translate to action? Doesn’t matter if you’ve got the science in that right jargon. Like if that’s not going to resonate, that’s not what they need to hear. And I think she was giving that same message.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: We had that privilege last year of talking to Michael Lewis, we were talking to him about shutdowns, but Michael Lewis does great in storytelling about this of government’s role and taking complex issues of risk, translating them for people, managing them for people and communicating them for people in a way that makes sense.
And sometimes they do just an exceptional job at it. And Stuart and Jacinta were incredible models of this and it was such a privilege to be able to help introduce them to our listeners and tell their stories.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah, it, it was a great conversation. And again, they emphasized our, our favorite aspect of career and federal government: there is no right one path and there’s anything you can do in the government and try different things and it’s a great experience. So, thanks for being with me on this one, Loren.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Thank you.
Loren DeJonge Schulman:
So that’s our show, thanks so much for listening! If you haven’t already, please follow or subscribe to “Profiles in Public Service” wherever you get your podcasts.
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Loren DeJonge Schulman:
“Profiles in Public Service” is created by the Partnership for Public Service.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Our writer and producer is Abigail Alpern Fisch.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Our script supervisor is Barry Goldberg.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: And our executive producer is Jordan LaPier.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: See you next time!