Women at Work: U.S. Department of Commerce

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Women at Work: U.S. Department of Commerce

Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Highlights from the Office of Civil Rights' panel discussion for Women's History Month on March 29, 2017.
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[Title card: "Women at work: Insights from Commerce employees"]

[Title card: "Women in the U.S. Census Bureau"]

[Sharon A. Tosi Lacey, Chief Historian at the Census Bureau]

In 1920, we started appointing women as supervisors, both in the field and at the Census Bureau, and we've been highlighting on our social media and our website seven of these women who were the first supervisors. Some of their jobs-- the ones at the headquarters. One of the women--you'll see her picture here--of her with the Marcelled hair, pouring over a large book. That's Mary Oursler. She was the Keeper of the Census and she was the person who rescued most of the Census records from being destroyed. And after the 1921 fire destroyed much of the 1890 Census, she was the one who lobbied to have it put into a fireproof vault. And she was the person they would contact--over a hundred thousand people a year--to do age verification, because most people didn't have birth certificates at that time. So we have her to thank for the fact that we have so many rich records. We also had--I don't think we have our picture up there, but another woman at the Bureau was in charge of all the personnel and then yet another woman was the first--she was the Deputy Chief Statistician for the 1920 and 1930 Census. So we had some women doing some pretty amazing things at a time when most women didn't have that. And in the field the women we had--supervisors were only—you know, it was a six-month position. You had to map the area, you had to hire all of your enumerators, and you had to make sure all the Census was conducted in two to four weeks, depending if you were rural or urban. And we had some women who were supervisors for the Census Bureau then went on to be very well respected lawyers. One of the women we feature, Minnie Burke Smith, her son actually became the Secretary of Commerce in 1968.

[Title card: "Importance of working together"]

[Lisa M. Blumerman, Associate Director for Decennial Census Programs at the Census Bureau]

And I think that gets back to your question, which is one of allies. You need to develop the relationships both above, sideways, and below to help you throughout each and everything you choose to do. No one can do it alone. It's not all a team--it is all a team and it's not a team. We work in groups, we work together, we have our own pieces. But we do it in a supportive environment. And it's knowing and recognizing that as you make choices, you don't have to have all the answers, but you can go to someone with that question or you can bring someone into that project to help you. Or someone can give you their approval or their blessing to move that to the next step.

[Title card: "An early interest in NIST's mission"]

[Elizabeth F. Fong, Computer Scientists and Dean of Staff at NIST]

When I grew up in China I went to the grocery store or the market with my mother. And my mother always carried a weight, the Chinese version, to measure so that the merchant who was selling her a

vegetable wasn't cheating on her. This is true. And I came to NIST and I said "oh, this is the main mission that NIST does," and what in the computer area that I could make a measurement and so on.

[Moderator]

I hope you told your mother that she was an early precursor of NIST. [laughter]

[Title card: "Finding strength in teams"]

[Pamela K. Isom, Director of the USPTO's Office of Application Engineering and Development]

Any advice to any leader or any aspiring leader, or even for those of us who are mentoring the ones that are growing up. That's one of the pieces of information I would impart, is it's about how we do things together. It really is. And if four or five people get together to solve a problem, the problem is more sustainable--the solution, I mean, is more sustainable. Because you've taken many different--it's been vetted. It's been vetted better. So--But when you're in college and things, it's about you. It's about your idea, your solution, right. So it changes, progressing over the years, and those experiences that go along with that have helped me a lot. And I think as me personally, that's what I look for when I'm looking at future leaders. If someone on my team--if I'm looking at someone on my team and saying they are a potential senior executive, it's because that's one of the things that I see. How they go about solving problems. How are they working with the people that work with them. How collectively and collaboratively they're able to get things done. That's just one piece of information.

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