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Spotlight on Commerce: Wendy Doernberg, Senior Equal Employment Opportunity and External Civil Rights Specialist, Office of Civil Rights

Guest blog post by Wendy Doernberg, Senior Equal Employment Opportunity and External Civil Rights Specialist, Office of Civil Rights

When my aunt Marian Frankston entered law school in 1970, she was one of three women in the class. Every day they were asked to answer more difficult questions than their male colleagues as if the professors wanted to see them fail. Certain courtrooms would not allow them to enter unless they wore a dress or skirt.

When I began University of Pittsburgh School of Law school in 2008, my class was about 50% women. Many of my professors also were women. Professor Margaret Mahoney had been a member of the faculty since 1978 and was the first woman to earn tenure at the law school.  Professor Deborah Brake worked at the National Women’s Law Center before she became a professor. She was passionate about how the law impacted women, including issues pertaining to women in sports and pregnancy discrimination. As her research assistant, I was able to help her with a book about how Title IX, a federal statute enacted in 1972 to prohibit sex discrimination in education, had opened the door for girls and women to participate in competitive sports.

I graduated law school in 2011 and began my federal government career at the Department of Labor. I acquired an amazing mentor. She now leads a large team of people, but she still makes time to support many other employees and me throughout the federal government. Now, as a Senior Equal Employment Opportunity and External Civil Rights Specialist in the Commerce Department’s Office of Civil Rights, I help process claims of discrimination from employees, applicants, and those involved with recipients of federal financial assistance. I also proactively educate others about civil rights. As Vice Chair of the Federal Inter-Agency Holocaust Remembrance Committee, I coordinate with other agencies to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust, namely discrimination, are not forgotten. 

Because I had the benefit of strong mentors and professors, I consider it my responsibility to pay it forward to the next generation. To that end, I am a mentor through Community Bridges, Inc., an organization in Silver Spring, Maryland, that empowers girls from diverse backgrounds to become exceptional students, positive leaders, and healthy young women. This year, my original mentee will be the first one in her family to graduate college. My current mentee, a senior in high school, wants to become a lawyer, and I intend to support her every step of the way. 

During Women’s History Month, I think about the barriers to women that were in place and the men and women who helped to shatter those barriers. I think about the barriers that continue to exist and how we can collectively work to remove them. I also take the time to say thank you to my mentors, recommit myself to mentor others, and challenge all of you to be a mentor in your own unique way.

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of women at the Department of Commerce in honor of Women's History Month.

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