Elaine Chao ’75 is the first American woman of Asian descent to be appointed to a presidential cabinet. In 2001, President George W. Bush named Chao as secretary of labor; she was the only cabinet member to serve all eight years of his administration.
Under her leadership, the U.S. Department of Labor achieved record results in protecting the health, safety, wages, and retirement security of the nation’s workforce. These included recovering record levels of back wages and monetary recoveries for pension plans, and obtaining record financial settlements for discrimination by federal contractors. Chao also improved the competitiveness of America’s workforce by restructuring departmental programs and modernizing regulations to reflect the realities of the twenty-first-century workplace.
When Chao’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan, she was eight and spoke no English. Years later, she studied economics at Mount Holyoke College. Her education continued at the Harvard Business School where she earned an M.B.A. Chao then began a distinguished career spanning the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
Prior to leading the Department of Labor, Chao was president and CEO of United Way of America, director of the Peace Corps, deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation, and chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission. She also worked as vice president at Bank of America and at Citicorp.
Chao has received innumerable awards for her contributions to public and community service. She currently works on jobs, employment, trade, workforce, and competitiveness issues as a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.