5 Questions for a Brunonian: Disability Policy Expert Taryn Williams ’02

A recent White House nominee in the Department of Labor, Williams has dedicated her career to workplace equity.

Taryn Williams '02 headshot In her new role as Assistant Secretary of Disability Employment Policy, Williams leads the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and advises the Secretary of Labor on how the department’s policies and programs impact employment opportunities for people with disabilities. 

Learn more about what drives her work in this field and the role Brown continues to play in her life:


This year, the Brown Women’s Network is celebrating and honoring 130 years of women at Brown. What are you most excited about?

I think we are in a moment when we are in deep conversation about what we want our society to be in the future. The ongoing pandemic, movement for racial justice, and growing political polarization have forced us to consider who we want to be as a culture and a country, and women are playing a leading role in shaping those conversations. Having an opportunity to engage with other Brown alumnae who are leaders, innovators, and disruptors across so many sectors is thrilling to me. 

Why do you do what you do?

I get this question a lot – why disability policy? Early in my career, I had experiences with some of the many barriers that exist for people with disabilities in the workplace. Everything from bias to the availability of accommodations to an employer’s health care plans and leave policies can impact the career success of the millions of individuals who live with disabilities or chronic conditions.

Over time, I’ve come to understand that everyone will be touched by disability in their lifetime. They may age into disability, may acquire a temporary disability, or find themselves as a partner, parent, child, or caregiver to an individual with a disability. These early lessons and experiences set me on my current career path. My work today is focused on building a future where we increase both the number and quality of employment opportunities for all people with disabilities.


Why Brown?

As a senior in high school, I took advantage of an opportunity to visit the campus and stay for the weekend. I can still remember the feeling I had when I walked onto the Main Green. It was a sense of belonging. All of the students I encountered were so friendly and welcoming and I could easily imagine myself as a student. The camaraderie and connection I felt to the institution and its students, staff, and alumni has only deepened over the years.

“ I can still remember the feeling I had when I walked onto the Main Green. It was a sense of belonging...The camaraderie and connection I felt to the institution and its students, staff, and alumni has only deepened over the years. ”

What is the one piece of advice you would give your younger self?

As a student or young alumna, take advantage of the opportunity to connect to students and alumni. There are Brown alumni in every country doing anything one could imagine. Often, they are so giving of their time and more than willing to share their advice and experiences with others. And, because of the many Brown alumni who have given me time during my career, I always try to carve time for those who reach out to me! (Seriously, find me on BrownConnect or LinkedIn if you ever want to chat about careers, disability justice, or all things Brown-related.)

Achievements don’t happen in a vacuum. Was there a particular alumna who helped you get where you are today?

Absolutely! I was fortunate to work with two Brown alumnae at my first job in DC: Denise Bledsoe Slaughter ’75 AM’77 and Barbara McCloud ’74 MAT’74. Both of them were mentors to me in my early career and I cherish the advice they gave me as I shaped my career path. They also helped me understand just how powerful the Brown network can be for students and alumni.

Women in Washington: Leading in Times of Crisis


Senior leaders in the Biden administration explore the role of women in government and how they are navigating civil rights, education, and labor challenges during times of change, uncertainty, and intense political division. 

Featuring Suzanne Goldberg ’85, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Operations and Outreach, U.S. Office for Civil Rights and Taryn Williams ’02, Assistant Secretary of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor

Moderated by Susan Moffitt, Associate Professor of Political Science and International and Public Affairs, Brown University

Presented by the Brown Women’s Network and co-sponsored by the Pembroke Center and Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.