As a black woman in a cutthroat legal profession, Loretta Lynch has often encountered people trying to typecast her. Lynch, who in 2015 became the first black woman to serve as United States Attorney General, recalls how, as a young lawyer on Wall Street, people often assumed she was a court reporter.
“People will look at you and they’ll try and define you, whether you’re a woman, whether you’re young,” she says in “Firsts,” TIME’s multimedia project featuring candid interviews with 46 groundbreaking women. “But they only do that if you let them, and so I always viewed my job as defining myself.”
Her persistence and determination to achieve what she has, Lynch says, came from her parents. She recalls her mother defying segregation by refusing to use segregated facilities. “My mother felt if she was really [going to] live this life and show her children that you should not accept this kind of overt discrimination, that it had to start with her,” Lynch says.
Lynch is confident that women’s determination is stronger than the roadblocks.
“Women are a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “The glass ceiling is nothing compared to the determination of women.”