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Women’s History Month: Carrying the Torch of Public Service from Tehran to New York

Roxanne Moadel-Attie, New York Regional Office Program Manager, U.S. Census Bureau

When asked what most motivated me to join the Commerce Department’s U.S. Census Bureau, I often point to my graduate research on the psychosocial impacts of racial classification, modeling the integration of both Middle Eastern North African (MENA) and Hispanic/Latino race categories as well as other recommendations for the census race questions.

Looking back, I would include my mother, Minoo, and grandmother, Gohar – who immigrated to the United States from Iran in the 1960s – as major inspirations for my career in public service.

As our family matriarch, my grandmother was a policymaker in her own right at a time and place these roles did not exist for women. With only foundational education, she learned by reading literature, history, and policy.

Like her father, who publicly championed constitutional reform in Iran, she worked alongside a council of Iranian women to advocate for change in policies like the one banning women from inheriting money, land, and anything else of value in her home country.

Thanks to her efforts, I have had the privilege to lead and try to ensure that U.S. populations including all races, religions, and sexual identities are counted in the census and that their social, political, and economic needs are recognized and addressed.

I began my Census Bureau career in the New York Regional Office, where I supervised data collection for surveys such as the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and the Current Population Survey (CPS).

During the 2020 Census when we faced added challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic, I managed enumeration in New York’s Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island, which are among the nation’s most linguistically and culturally diverse regions.

I was also responsible for the highly sensitive Domestic Violence Shelter Operation for the 2020 Census, which most widely affected women and children of diverse backgrounds.

These experiences led me to my current position as the New York region’s program coordinator. In this role, I oversee several surveys (NHIS, CPS and the Survey of Income and Program Participation) and subregions (upstate New York and New Jersey).

I also developed a mentorship initiative designed to create professional networking opportunities and growth potential by forging greater partnerships with tribal specialists and developing communication strategies to improve relations with tribal nations in our region.

Nearly five years after joining the Census Bureau, my efforts to impact racial classification policies in the census have been realized by both the agency and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Women’s History Month empowers me to explore more causes for change and ways in which I can carry the torch of my grandmother’s legacy of social action and leadership. I am frequently inspired by women who have made their mark on U.S. history, including great figures like Madeleine Albright, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bella Abzug, and Kamala Harris who have not only broken through glass ceilings in their respective offices but have also implemented groundbreaking policies, programs, and legislation that have stood the test of time. It was Ruth Bader Ginsburg who once said that “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” In the same vein, the legacy and works of women globally must be preserved to ensure that their narratives and history—both past and present—are shared. As such, Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate women’s collective contributions to history, to remember their exceptional accomplishments, and to appreciate them for both their recognized and unrecognized works.

This blog post is part of a series showcasing the women leaders from across the U.S. Department of Commerce in honor of Women's History Month. 

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