Q: Let’s start by talking about your current role with the Port of Seattle.
I am the Manager of Talent Development and Diversity at the Port of Seattle, which is a special purpose government division managing the seaport. To give you a sense of the importance and scale of the port, we are responsible for maintaining a working waterfront for ships, as well as many businesses in the area, including the airport. The Port of Seattle is responsible for negotiating leases with airlines, as well as the restaurants and stores that rent space in the facility. It’s a lot of property, and as an organization we are committed to the environment, sustainability, as well as promoting diversity and inclusivity among our staff.
It takes a lot of people to maintain the transportation and cargo infrastructure in King County, and it is my responsibility to integrate learning and inclusivity surrounding people’s diverse experiences. I help facilitate the managerial training and meet with new employees through their orientation process. I also support our diversity development council, which includes employee advocates bringing racial equity work to the ground level.
Q: How did you arrive at this role?
My background is in adult education, and also in diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism training. I have always enjoyed learning and school, but I never wanted to be a school teacher, instead, I developed skills that allow me to work as a teacher in a different capacity; I get to work as a teacher in government agencies! Initially, I came on as a consultant to focus on learning and development strategies to help employees identify productive learning solutions. Part of my work in over the last year involved the Port making a commitment to model equity and inclusion. So I have been able to lead work teams as they dig in and really explore what equity and inclusion means for us. It has been rewarding to work with these folks as we tease out strategies to these difficult questions and conversations.
Q: Tell me more about what inspired you to do racial equity work.
I grew up in a family context that really valued community service. I grew up in Berkeley California, which at the time was really diverse and since there was only one high school, we were all mixed together. I guess there is this historic piece of growing up in Berkeley, where “social justice” is a household phrase. Early on I developed a commitment to see and address injustices whenever and wherever possible. I found that this is especially true for those of us fortunate to reach positions of authority. From this vantage, it’s even more important that when we become aware of injustices, we actually do something. I feel like I owe it to the folks who have worked hard in the past to make my life possible, and I know we haven’t arrived yet, but I have been given the gift of opportunity and I try to pay it forward.
Q: In your opinion, what role does government have in addressing racial inequities?
I like the to think of the growing demand for racial equity work as a movement. There are so many local government employees who have access to resources to make an impact. We have to recognize the power of all those agencies and get them onboard. The more people motivated to join the movement, the bigger the impact we can make.
Q: Tell me a story about one of your major accomplishments in this role.
We have created a Port Equity Toolkit that I believe will be really valuable. It took some very courageous, and frank, conversations in order to develop this tool, but I am proud of the work that we have done. This took a lot of collaboration and some great perseverance on the part of our executive team as well. They attended an undoing racism workshop, and become engaged with the concepts to the point where at the end of the workshop, the executive team didn’t want to stop, instead they said, “we need to learn more.” So we developed a more comprehensive seminar to delve deeper into racial inequity. I was thrilled by how successful well received this seminar was. I feel like we are tapping into important areas of local government that needs addressing and it is rewarding when the people who have the power to make decisions are on board to make these changes a reality.
Q: What has been most challenging aspect of pursuing this work?
First, I want to acknowledge all of the great work that has come up through Seattle. The RSJI and prevalence of equity toolkits in Seattle Government has been invaluable in building skills and awareness. That said, there are still a number of hurdles that we face every day and some people don’t see the natural role of equity and social justice for the Port.
It has been difficult to build awareness. For the majority of employees, it’s a great place to work, and if you are looking in from the outside, you will see strong and diverse employee groups. It would be easy to stop there and think we are doing a great job, however, there are significant areas where we could do better. One of those areas is really addressing the needs of the folks who live in the communities we operate in.
The Port of Seattle has a special purpose identity, so we are seen as not so externally facing, instead we are focused on customers rather than on communities. In the past this has allowed us to make decisions affecting the port, and after the fact, send notifications and information to the people that live in the area. We had a one-way model of communication where people were being impacted and had no voice in the decision making or real mechanism for feedback. We are trying to step up our community involvement and be proactive in our engagement with the folks who live here. We are learning a new way of doing things and it’s challenging. But we’ve learned to start early and circle back. It’s an iterative process and it’s critical for the success of the Port in the long term.
Q: You seem very excited and energized by the work you’re doing, what has been the most rewarding aspects for you personally?
I really enjoy the people. I am very lucky to be surrounded with kind and dedicated coworkers. Together, we celebrate the accomplishments, regardless of how small, and tackle the challenges, no matter how big. I recognize that I am not going to change the world on my own. So I work hard to enjoy the victories and all of the other good things in life.
Q: What do you think is holding us back?
This topic is a complex one and it takes some time and effort to have an appreciation for the nuances. To contextualize the conversation, I think about the evolution of the “diversity field.” It started with promoting diversity in hiring practices, not necessarily in terms of a sustained workforce. That progressed to “inclusion” in order to create a productive and diverse workforce. The next step is to say “equity” and recognize the institutional racism and how that plays a role in the political and social structures of our environment. From there we can look and say, “maybe there’s something we can do about these systems that breed inequity.”
Racism is tricky, and at this point in history it has anchored itself in a way that might be invisible to the untrained observer. Racism is a system that is invested in its own survival. By shifting our focus toward equity, and addressing racist structures head on, we will be able to make real progress.
Q: To end on an inspiring note, what do you think we could accomplish in the next decade?
I believe that many of the issues that are taking place under Trump are opening people’s eyes to the deep wounds surrounding race in America and laying the groundwork for some significant change. We will see many of the same things that Obama had to sign in through executive order, passed into laws that are harder to dismantle. We are reflecting on the importance and value of progressing toward racial equity. After the hiccups of this current administration, we will learn from our mistakes, and move toward a more equitable country.