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There for the Change

Jenny Kaplan writes about her experiences creating change for women and girls through her role as the outgoing Deputy Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Like many people who attended President Obama’s Inauguration, I wanted to change the world. Since then, so many have worked to do just that by working in their local communities or advocating for progress on the national level. I feel especially lucky for having the opportunity to create change from within the walls of the Obama White House. I will forever be grateful to Valerie Jarrett, Tina Tchen, Michael Strautmanis, and many others for giving me the opportunity to serve the President in that way.

In January of 2009, I arrived at the Eisenhower Building in the cold a little unsure about what being in the Public Liaison Office actually meant. Luckily, I didn’t have much time to contemplate this because just days after starting, we were planning for the President’s very first bill signing – the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Suddenly, I was standing in a room full of equal pay advocates and the President of the United States. The cheers engulfed us and the energy was completely overwhelming. I looked around and realized that while I had taken a job to serve this President, I had also stepped squarely into history and was sharing a moment that was a part of a long struggle for equality. As I looked around the room I could feel the pride, the sense of accomplishment, and the joy that so many pioneers in the women’s movement felt at that moment. It was then that I truly understood the magnitude of my job and the incredible opportunity I had been given.

Soon after the Ledbetter signing, President Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls. This effort was led by Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen, who are a dynamic one-two punch fighting for women and girls every day and I am honored to have served as the Deputy Director. The President’s goal for the Council was to ensure that the entire federal government was focused on the needs of women and girls. In order to achieve this goal, each Cabinet and Sub-Cabinet agency and every White House office appointed a designee to the Council. Working with this incredible group of people has been an absolute honor. The Council has been working tirelessly from the first meeting where Russlynn Ali discussed the Department of Education’s renewed focus on Title IX enforcement as it applies to STEM education for girls, to our most recent meeting where we discussed inter-agency efforts to support women veterans. Women and girls everywhere should know that there is a group of people in the Obama Administration working on their behalf every day.

Looking back now there are an infinite number of things I could highlight, both big and small. I sat in the front row when President Obama and Vice President Biden appointed Lynn Rosenthal to be the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women and I was in the room when President Obama appointed not just one, but two women to the United States Supreme Court. I was also a part of the team that fought for the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which will change the lives of millions of women and girls. I was there when the President and First Lady spoke honestly about tackling the challenges of balancing family and work at our Forum on Workplace Flexibility.

And on the lighter side, I was there when my Tar Heels came in for an NCAA basketball championship visit and when the Presidential seal fell off of the podium while President Obama addressed attendees at the Fortune Most Powerful Women event.

And, after two Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act in the Senate, I was there when the President reassured advocates that this was still a major priority of his Administration. I was a part of the team who released the Women in America report – the first comprehensive data report on the status of women in almost 50 years. And when a young girl left Burkina Faso for the first time to come to introduce the First Lady at our International Women’s Day event, I was there.

Best of all, I will always be able to say that I was a part of an Administration that tries to change the world for women and girls every day. I was there for the countless meetings where someone spoke up on behalf of those with little or no voice. Women and girls everywhere should be proud of this Administration. I know I am.

Jenny Yeager Kaplan served as the Deputy Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.