Executive director, California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls
When LaKenya Jordan begins explaining how the socioeconomic model influenced her to begin working in policy and government, she pauses. With a smile, she warns, “It’s going to be a little nerdy.” The self-described nerdiness is a manifestation of Jordan’s drive to “bring people together to help make change,” and as head of the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, a state government office that focuses on initiatives and programs that promote and establish equity for women and girls statewide, that is her job.
Jordan became CCSWG’s executive director in May 2020. She became interested in policy while she was a premed communications major at Saint Mary’s College and worked at Children’s Hospital Oakland. She was researching how people receive information and the effects it has on their health. “I came to understand the policy role for doctors who are engaged in both medicine and policy,” she says.
Her first foray into government work was in 2008 — after spending about 15 years in the private sector in banking, nonprofits, real estate and research — through Sacramento State’s Capital Fellows Program. She has worked for government offices
since, including the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency. She earned a master’s of public health at Touro University in 2011, and the Vallejo native says that working in a variety of sectors — including her first job at a fast-food restaurant as a teenager — has helped her “understand what happens to a person at all levels of the economy and all levels and walks of life.”
CCSWG identifies inequities for women and girls in state laws, programs and policies, and it finds solutions to provide more equity. One initiative, #EqualPayCA, is in partnership with first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and encourages equal pay for women. It includes the Equal Pay Pledge, where employers publicly commit to finding where unconscious biases may exist in hiring or compensation practices. “We’re asking them to fix that,” Jordan says.
“You define yourself with your values. You define yourself with the purpose you have in your heart, and you keep moving. And I think really you’re unstoppable if you do that.”
The commission partners with other government agencies, such as the Labor Commissioner’s Office and the California Department of Education, on programs that support disenfranchised workers to advocate for themselves; advise on how to distribute funds to sexual assault prevention organizations; and encourage the participation of more girls in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
CCSWG’s Your Vote Is Your Voice campaign encourages voter turnout, and with the historic turnout for the November 2020 election, Jordan is happy that the efforts of the commission and other organizations achieved that goal. “I’m proud of when what we do together has such an impact on the rest of the world,” she says.
While there have been victories, there have also been challenges. When she began working in government, Jordan says not knowing the lay of the land made it rough. “It is difficult too when as a woman, to survive, you often have to walk differently than a male, especially a woman of color,” she says. “As a Black woman, walking through government, you know, there’s a lot of things you have to temper … (like) your outspokenness in a board meeting … and when to push for something, and learn … how do you go and win what you’re trying to get before you actually get into the boardroom.”
Jordan wants to help other women with what she’s learned, so she mentors through the speaker series She Shares, run in partnership with the nonprofit California Center for Civic Participation. “I am here because of the women who came before me,” she says, and as the ladder to opportunities grows taller, “I have to bring people along with me as I’m building and climbing.”
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