Ida Castro: 1953—: Public Official, Lawyer Biography
Ida Castro rose through the ranks of the U.S. Department of Labor before being named the first Latina to head the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1998. Over the course of her three years as the agency's leader, Castro implemented numerous changes and initiatives that improved its ability to provide quality services to the public. She was then appointed as secretary of personnel for the state of New Jersey.
Castro was born in 1953 in New York City. Her father, Ezequiel, was a restaurant worker, and her mother, Aurora, was a garment worker. Although she was born in New York, Castro spent much of her childhood in Hato Rey, a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico. As a first-grader in the Bronx, Castro was struck by the prejudice and bigotry surrounding her when a teacher instructed Castro that she was not to translate some classroom instructions to another student who spoke only Spanish. Years later, remembering the teacher's disgust as she referred to the student as a "spic," a racial slur for a Hispanic, Castro would be motivated to do what she could to defend the rights of all.
After receiving her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Puerto Rico, Castro attended Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she earned both an M.A. in labor studies and a J.D. In 1973 she accomplished one of her many "firsts" when, at the age of 20, she became the first woman and youngest person to serve on the city cabinet of Carolina, Puerto Rico, assuming the role as the director of Manpower. In 1976 she joined the faculty of Rutgers Labor Education Center at the Institute for Management and Labor Relations. She established another first when she became the first Hispanic woman to be tenured as an associate professor at the Institute.
Along with her career as a professor at the Institute for Management and Labor, Castro also served in various positions as an employment and labor law attorney. She was senior counsel for legal affairs for the Health and Hospital Corporation in New York, the largest U.S. municipal health care system; director of labor relations and special counsel to the president at Hostos Community College, associated with City University of New York; associate counsel at Eisner, Ley, Pollack, and Ratner; and associate counsel at Giblin and Giblin. In 1989 she became the first Hispanic woman to serve as deputy campaign manager of a successful mayoral campaign in New York City, helping Democrat David Dinkins to become mayor of New York City. Three years later, in 1992, Castro served as deputy campaign manager for Nydia Velásquez of New York in her first successful bid to become a U.S. congresswoman. More firsts came when Castro founded the first Hispanic women's group in New Jersey and when the governor of New Jersey appointed her as the first Hispanic woman to serve on the New Jersey Commission on the Status of Women.
In 1994 Castro joined the U.S. Department of Labor as deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Workers' Compensation Program in the Employment Standards, becoming the first woman to be named Director of that office. She was later named acting deputy solicitor of the Labor Department. In 1996 Castro was selected to head the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau as the agency's acting director. The Women's Bureau was formed by Congress in 1920 to promote the welfare of working women. Upon entering the office, Castro vowed to promote the rights of wage-earning women, focusing increased attention on older women, very young women, and women of color. During her two year tenure as Acting Director, Castro is credited with the development of an agency web site, improving and expanding outreach to women, and developing relations with small and medium sized businesses.
In 1998 Castro fulfilled her greatest "first" when she was named the director of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the first Latina to serve in this capacity. Castro was nominated by President Clinton on April 2, 1998, and received unanimous confirmation from the U.S. Senate on October 21, 1998. Two days later she was sworn in. The EEOC was created by Congress as a result of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The agency fulfills its role by enforcing and promoting equal employment opportunities regardless of race, color, age, sex, religious faith, national origin, or disability by means of education, arbitration, and litigation.
Upon joining the EEOC as its new leader, Castro focused on the challenges presented by the internal disarray of the agency. In an interview with HR Magazine, Castro noted, "Probably my greatest challenge is turning the agency around internally. The agency has experienced more than 20 years of resource starvation. We have issues of staff allocations, training, and professional development. We also have issues relating to technology, where the agency is far behind the private sector." Using increased funding from Congress, Castro started the process of upgrading the technology throughout the EEOC offices. She pushed for increased training and better communication among staff.
Castro's goal in improving her agency internally was twofold. First, she strongly believes that well trained and well prepared staff will understand the mission of the EEOC and strive to fulfill it. Second, by cleaning house internally, Castro wanted to present a more positive image of the EEOC to the public. Prior to Castro's term as director the EEOC had come under public criticism for its use of "racial testers." In such cases the EEOC would perform a sting operation on a company by sending in two people, employed by the EEOC and equipped with fake resumes, to apply for a job, with one person being notable by racial identity. The goal was to expose companies that used unfair and illegal hiring practices, which had the companies screaming entrapment. The use of testers was suspended but the public relations damage was left for Castro to attempt to clean up.
Castro remained at the head of the EEOC for three years. During that time, she was credited with reducing the backlog of discrimination charges by 23 percent. She also decreased the average processing time of complaints from approximately ten to six months. As a result of her outreach efforts, assistance was expanded to underserved communities and a new field office was opened in San Juan to serve Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. She is also credited with the development of the National Mediation Program, a highly successful program through which employers and employees can avoid litigation by using EEOC or private mediators. Part of the success of the program is due to Castro's added stress on upgrading the agency's litigation services, thereby motivating employers to find alternative solutions to the problems.
In August of 2001, Castro stepped down as head of the EEOC. According to an EEOC press release, Castro said of her departure: "I am very proud of the tremendous progress EEOC has made, such as slashing the backlog of charges, implementing the National Mediation Program, establishing a comprehensive enforcement strategy to ensure a fair and efficient process, and improving customer services." After departing the EEOC, Castro joined the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as a senior advisor and director of the DNC Women's Vote Center. The Women's Vote Center was established in June of 2001 as a special initiative to educate, engage, and mobilize women voters for Democratic candidates. DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe commented in a DNC press release, "I am proud to welcome a woman of Ms. Castro's caliber to lead this incredibly important initiative. Her strategic vision, proven leadership, impressive record of accomplishments and strong commitment to women's issues make her the perfect choice to direct the Women's Vote Center." In the fall of 2001, Castro was appointed as the personnel director for the state of New Jersey.
Despite her impressive career as the achiever of so many "firsts," Castro remains dubious about this honor. In an interview with Kuliva Wilburn of IMDiversity.com, she noted, "In terms of being the first, I've been the first on several occasions. I should probably say it with greater pride, except that I'm always concerned when I'm the first in anything. It just reminds me in how late in coming that it is.… I would certainly like to see our society reach a point where saying the first of anything is no longer of relevance, because we are in every place —as women, as Latinas, as Blacks, as Asian-Pacific Americans, whatever group. I think, regrettably, that we've got a long way to go in that regard and that being said I will try to do my best to open those doors for everyone."
The Star Ledger, (New Jersey), April 23, 2002.
Democratic National Committee, http://www.dnc. org
Rutgers University, http://rutgers.edu
Pricewaterhouse Cooper's Endowment for the Business of Government Profiles in Leadership, http://endowment.pwcglobal.com/radio/castro_bio.asp
HR Magazine, February 1999, http://www.shrm.org /hrmagazine/articles/0299castro.htm
U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/wb/wb96103.htm
U.S. Department of State, The President's Inter-agency Council on Women, http://www.secretary. state.gov/www/picw/acwbio_castro.html
Women's Village, IMDiversity.com, http://www.im diversity.com/villages/woman/village_woman.asp
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