Working for Equal Opportunity

03/20/2015 02:36 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2015

Jenny Yang, a child of immigrant parents and the first Asian American to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), has spent her career focused on ensuring fairness in the workplace.

In this interview, Yang discusses her goals for the EEOC, which she took over as chair in September, and some of the lessons she has learned from her parents, children and mentors. (I am a guest writer for On Leadership, as well as a vice president at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and the head of its Center for Government Leadership.) The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q. What led you to become a civil rights advocate, particularly on the issue of employment discrimination?

A. My parents came to this country from China. From a young age, I saw my mother experience discrimination at work. By talking to her about these experiences, I saw how important work is to people's lives and how critical it is to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect. So when I thought about what was most meaningful to me, I wanted to work on those issues. Thinking about how we expand opportunities for all workers is something that motivates me and drives the work of the agency.

Q. What are your top goals for the EEOC?

A. We know that discrimination can be a persistent problem in some workplaces. Rather than just treat the symptoms of the problems after they occur, we are looking at the underlying causes so that we can identify strategies that promote prevention and have a greater impact.

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This post was originally featured on the Washington Post's website.