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Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole Speaks at the
Justice Department Women’s History Month Observance Program


Washington, DC
United States

Good morning and welcome.

Thank you Richard for your kind introduction and to all DOJ Components for their programs to acknowledge the outstanding contributions of Women during Women’s History Month.

I also want to recognize the Girl Scouts of America Troop # 2296 for their participation in today’s program and especially Bryonna Scott for singing the National Anthem.

These young ladies represent our Nation’s future lawyers, law enforcement officers, doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers, military personnel, and hopefully DOJ employees.

We welcome you to the Department of Justice and thank you for joining us this morning.

We are pleased to have joining us today, from the White House, Tonya Robinson, Special Assistant to the President and Head of the Justice and Regulatory Division of the Domestic Policy Council. Tonya, thank you for participating in today’s event.

I would also like to recognize today’s program keynote speaker Michele Leonhart, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Administrator Leonhart, we are grateful that you could join us today.

This morning’s program, as part of Women’s History Month, comes at an important time in our nation’s dialogue about the critical role of women leaders. Current women’s voices, such as Princeton’s Anne-Marie Slaughter and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandburg, have captured our attention and reminded us that women, alongside men, must have seats at the table. This holds true whether women are overseeing a Fortune 500 company, a federal agency, or the factory floor. As with all efforts to increase diversity, the perspectives women bring to all the important work we do in this country only serves to make the ultimate product better and, as a result, make us all better off.

We also gather this morning to reflect on the contributions - and sacrifices - that DOJ’s women have made in advancing the Justice Department’s mission as well as how women have made significant contributions to all aspects of our nation’s cultural, academic, economic, and military institutions.

At the Justice Department, the contributions of women are felt on all levels, and across each component. From senior members of my staff and the Attorney General’s staff, to attorneys and law enforcement professionals in Washington, around the country and around the world, women comprise approximately 41 percent of DOJ’s workforce. They are our partners, our colleagues, our friends, and our mentors, providing essential leadership and vision at every level and in every corner of the world where we carry out our most critical responsibilities.

This month’s national theme, “Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination,” emphasizes the vital role women play to advance science and technology across our nation. Specifically, in the Department, we have nearly 3,000 talented women serving in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics related occupations. They hold positions as economists, Information Technology Specialists, Engineers, Forensic Scientists, and Mathematicians. The women and the important roles they fill are critical to our mission, our operations, and to protecting our nation.

But even as we celebrate these accomplishments, we cannot lose sight of the stark gender divisions and disparities that still persist. Even though more women attend college than ever before – they continue to earn less than their male counterparts and they hold significantly fewer leadership positions in the workplace. On a personal level, my wife and I have both a son and a daughter, who are now young adults. It is essential to me that my daughter – that all of our daughters – have the same opportunities to excel, lead, and thrive as our sons, regardless of the career disciplines they choose.

There is no question that our nation has made great progress in developing a diverse and inclusive workforce – and it’s encouraging to see how far we have come. But our work is not over – and we still have more to do.

The Department has focused on these issues in a number of ways. Inside our walls, in addition to making sure women have a seat at the table here at DOJ, we have welcomed speakers from both inside and outside the Department to continue to discuss the importance of women in leadership and across the ranks of all of our occupations.

Outside our walls we recognize that women face unique and significant public safety threats. Preventing and combating violence against women constitutes a top priority for me, for the Attorney General, and for the entire Justice Department. Thanks to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which President Obama signed into law earlier this month, the Department is in a better position than ever before to protect all women and girls from violence, abuse, and exploitation. We are particularly pleased that the recent reauthorization of VAWA includes new provisions to address violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals; immigrants and Native Americans. The Department worked hard to ensure that this landmark legislation would protect all victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Through the Office of Violence Against Women, we are not just strengthening the criminal justice response to violence against women. We are improving access to essential services for victims of these heinous crimes, so they can seek the protections they deserve and have the support they need to rebuild their lives.

These internal and external efforts highlight just a few examples of this Justice Department’s commitment to breaking down the barriers of injustice and unequal treatment for all citizens. We are incredibly fortunate to have so many dedicated and talented employees leading this effort, not the least of whom is today’s guest of honor, Drug Enforcement Administrator Michele Leonhart.

From the start of her career, Michele’s tireless work ethic, and her commitment to the highest standards of excellence and integrity– have become the hallmark of all she has touched. Michele’s unwavering dedication to the Department and DEA have always been clear, making it no surprise that President Obama nominated her to become the Administrator in 2010. In accepting that role, Michele became the first career female federal agent to ever lead a federal law enforcement agency.

During her more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, Michele conducted undercover investigations, initiated and coordinated complex conspiracy cases, and commanded an enforcement group. In 1997, Michele served as the first woman to lead a DEA field division as Special Agent-in-Charge, first in San Francisco, and later in Los Angeles.

At headquarters, she served as both Deputy Administrator and Acting Assistant Administrator, before receiving her confirmation as Administrator – making her only the second woman in history to lead the agency. Rising through the ranks of the agency to become the Administrator, she has served as a role model, a mentor, and a sponsor to women and men, alike.

I know I consider myself fortunate to have Michele as my partner at the Justice leadership table. And it is my privilege, ladies and gentlemen, to welcome our keynote speaker, Michele Leonhart.

Updated September 17, 2014