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Deirdre Webster Cobb earned her BA in Political Science in 1984

Deirdre Webster Cobb earned her BA in Political Science in 1984

Glass Ceiling Smasher

Trailblazing in New Jersey

As a career civil servant, Deirdre Webster Cobb has always championed for the people



When Deirdre Webster Cobb ’84 was 11 years old, she knew that her future career would involve making a difference in the world. Growing up in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of East Liberty, Deirdre took a keen interest in social studies and civics at a very early age.

“I used to watch the evening news every night and was inspired by the civil rights work accomplished by African-American Congresswomen Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm. I realized that if I wanted to impact the laws and policies affecting people, I needed to become a decision-maker myself.”

“My mother once overheard a conversation I was having with my uncle about what I wanted to be when I grew up. When he made a sexist remark about why I could not be a lawyer, my mother intervened and said that I could be anything I wanted to be. She often would say this to me, whenever I doubted myself or my abilities.”

The first in her family to go to college, Deirdre turned to her high school AP English teacher, Mrs. Fagan, for guidance. Mrs. Fagan, who lived adjacent to Chatham College on Murray Hill Avenue, introduced Deirdre to the school. A little wary of an all-female institute, Deirdre was hesitant at first. However, one overnight visit was all it took for Deirdre to fall in love with Chatham. Impressed by the campus, professors, and students, Deirdre realized that an environment dedicated to grooming women leaders was going to be invaluable to her college experience.

During her time at Chatham, Deirdre was introduced to many local black female business leaders who made success seem attainable. “There were several women leaders who visited Chatham while I was a student there,” she says. “Perhaps the most memorable was Beverly Hamilton Robinson ’65, wife of former ABC News Anchor Max Robinson. She was an African-American woman, Chatham alumna and member of the Board of Trustees. She always took time to talk to the African-American students about her experience at Chatham and our experience at Chatham. She wanted to ensure that our needs were being met.”

Deirdre credits the support and attention she received at Chatham for igniting her passion for programming that empowers women and girls. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1984, she completed her J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Deirdre then went to New Jersey as a Governor’s Fellow, where she made a lasting impression and was offered a full-time position working on labor and enforcement law with a focus on discrimination.

Deirdre’s 30-year career as a civil servant includes working at New Jersey state departments including the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Department of Community Affairs, and the Department of the Treasury. Career highlights include creating opportunities for minorities and women to receive a more equitable chance at attaining state contracts, serving as a Special Assistant for Ethics Development, and overseeing the enforcement of the New Jersey State Policy Prohibiting Discrimination in the Workplace.

Deirdre is currently the second African-American woman to serve as chair/CEO of the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. Prior to taking on this role, Deirdre had decided she was ready to retire. But “when the governor asks you to become a member of their cabinet, it is humbling and you cannot turn it down!” she says.

While Deirdre believes staying focused is imperative to reaching any goal, she also believes in the value of mentorship. According to Deirdre, this type of relationship can make all the difference.

“Everyone needs someone who can tell them whether they’re doing things right or if there’s an area that may have been overlooked,” she says. “Chatham is a great place to find that.”

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