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Irene Kao
Irene Kao

2019 Diversity & Inclusion: Irene Kao

The law is a second career for Irene Kao. But in some ways, she’s still in her first real career: social justice. Her efforts toward bringing diversity and inclusion to the legal profession are the strongest manifestation of that career.

Kao’s first professional job, as a multicultural coordinator at the University of New Hampshire, was in higher education administration. But she found ways to pursue social justice objectives within it.

Then Kao went to law school. Since then, she has worked to help make the judicial pipeline for Minnesota’s bench more diverse.

She was on the board and later president of the Minnesota Asian Pacific American Bar Association, where she created the association’s judicial selection committee and helped set up a rigorous endorsement process for candidates. She also helped create and run boot camps for Asian lawyers who were interested in being judicial candidates. “Our job as an organization was to provide necessary resources that result in successful judicial candidates,” Kao said. “Sometimes candidates are qualified but aren’t familiar with the process [of being nominated], and so they come across as unqualified.”

Today, Kao is incoming president of the Infinity Project, which works to make the Minnesota bench more gender-balanced. She’s also intergovernmental relations counsel for the League of Minnesota Cities. “Racial inequities are an unfortunate part of the history of government,” she said. “The League helps cities analyze how race equity can be incorporated in to their work, so they can operate the best for all residents.”

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