Mayor of Redmond, Washington
Can you tell us about your journey to becoming Mayor?
I taught junior high science for many years until I became a stay-at-home mom for my kids. I started volunteering in their schools and for the PTA. From there, I also volunteered with the Lake Washington Schools Foundation because they were putting together a grant to improve junior high science programs. Then, I applied for a position in the Parks and Trails commission of the city of Redmond. Eventually, an opportunity came up to join the City Council. At the time, there was only one woman out of the seven members, so I thought it was important to improve representation as well. Participating and making decisions for the city through those roles inspired me to run for Mayor. Even though I don’t have a political background, I use a lot of my skills from working with the community in my role. My biology and chemistry background has also helped me in making sure the city has clean drinking water and sewer systems.
As Mayor, many women view you as a role model, but who are your role models?
One of my female college professors was instrumental in helping me and a cohort of other women pursue a career in teaching science. Also, one of my friends who used to work in the tech industry shared with me the challenges she had to overcome in her career as a woman. She was always willing to take risks and be the only woman in the company. My mother was also very inspirational. She graduated from high school second in her class but didn’t have the money to go to college. However, she helped put my father through college and sacrificed a lot to make sure that my sister and I went to college too. If you just look, there are so many strong women in the world, even if they are not always vocal about it.
When I was in college, I told someone that I was going into teaching and they asked, “so are you planning to teach kindergarten?”. Even later in my career, when I was first elected to City Council, I went to a networking event and a man asked, “whose staff member are you?”. There were also times when people downgraded my position or assumed that I didn’t know anything because I was a stay-at-home mom. Experiences like these make me feel like I have to be very careful to stay within my lane.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in leadership?
How have you seen Redmond evolve in terms of diversity and inclusion?
In the last 20 years, the demographics have changed from 70-80% white to almost becoming a majority-minority city. Much of that has come from Microsoft and other growing tech companies. Because of this diversity, we have different cultural festivals every other week and boards and commissions that reflect the city demographics. As a city, we are always trying to find new ways to serve this diverse community through efforts like translation services, simplifying city communications, etc.
How has the tech scene impacted the community in Redmond?
While tech companies have brought many jobs to the community among many other benefits, it has also caused a spike in housing costs. With all the people moving to Redmond, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the housing demand. A standard house in Redmond can cost over one million dollars, which is not affordable even if you are a new tech worker making over $100,000 per year. It’s even harder for restaurant staff, small business owners, etc. to afford to live and work in the same community. We also have the light rail opening up in a few years, which will help with the commute, but also bring more people, which will increase housing costs even more.
To address these problems, we require 10 percent of all development to be affordable and have implemented other programs as well. Regardless, the region does not have enough housing, and we will always struggle to create equity in the city until we create more affordable options.
As a woman in politics, how do you remain confident and make decisions without compromising your values?
I try to focus on the long term goal to determine what is best for the city. Many people try to rush things, but it’s important to take the time and weigh my decisions so I don’t make an irreversible mistake. My staff is also excellent at collaboration and always willing to share their opinions. Overall, I know that my decision carries a lot of weight so I am very thoughtful about what I do.
What is the one piece of advice you would offer girls pursuing a career in a male-dominated field?
I would say if you ever have an inner voice of doubt, listen to it, but never let it guide your decisions. Go with what you believe in and take a risk rather than let fear hold you down.