Paving the way — Women of Color Empowered honorees overcome challenges to inspire leaders of tomorrow

About 200 people gathered at the Westin Bellevue on May 11 to attend Northwest Asian Weekly’s Women of Color Empowered luncheon honoring eight women who have paved the path of success in their fields and are recognized for their leadership and inspiration for the next generation.

These women came together at the luncheon to discuss the challenges they’ve overcome and the inspiration that led them to achieve their goals.

Past hardships build today’s characters

Gael Tarleton, two-term Seattle port commissioner, has worked as a senior defense intelligence analyst for the Pentagon. During that time, she spent many years in Russia, facing such issues as having her company be accused of espionage. Through that, she has come to appreciate growing up in a country where we have rights.

“We are all in a play and we get to decide our role,” Tarleton said. “It’s a great place to be in the Pacific Northwest because we honor that.”

Tarleton takes her hardships and compares them to those of historical times, saying they weren’t as bad as she might make them to be.

“Fighting the Civil War was a real challenge,” she said. “The Depression was a real challenge. I look at women who are standing up for their families and communities every day and I think to myself, ‘They’re facing real challenges. Anything I confront is manageable.’ ”

Dr. Ana Mari Cauce, provost at the University of Washington, faced adversity at a young age. Her family fled Cuba at the start of the Cuban Revolution. She struggled to make a new life in the United States. Her brother was later murdered at the first anti-Ku Klux Klan rally. But Cauce does not look at her challenges with bitterness.

“The stuff that’s hard to do is what makes you strong,” Cauce said. “And it’s ultimately what gives you self-confidence.”

“Taking risks is part of leadership,” Cauce said. “If you don’t focus on how high the hill is or when you’re up there, you don’t look down, it’s really just about the next step.”

Cauce has been at the UW for 26 years, having served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, before becoming provost in January 2012. Though her new position has been stressful, she embraces the new role with open arms.

“You rise into leadership positions because there’s a need, there’s a desire, there’s a match,” Cauce said. “And then that takes you someplace else and this is where I’ve ended up.”

Passing the torch

Working with students is something Cauce has become accustomed to. She said they have become her inspiration for everyday life.

“The world is constantly rebuilding itself and I think that youth reminds us of that,” she said. “The youth don’t know where the land mines are — they just take that step.”

Linda Pillo has dodged many of her own landmines. As the first female police chief for the Bellevue Police Department, Pillo is a trailblazer in the criminal justice field. Pillo has been chief since January 2008 and in law enforcement since 1979.

“Once I got in and got hired as a police officer, I never looked back,” Pillo said. “I really enjoyed it. It’s a career where you can really make a difference, to have [an] impact on individual people’s lives, to make it better.”

Changing policies and planning budgets, as well as commanding 173 officers and 45 civilian staff, Pillo holds her own set of standards for her position.

“Most people might think that that might be very tough,” she said. “But if you can prove that you can do the job just as well, the guys accept you. The community accepts you.”

Like Cauce, Pillo said the best part of her job is passing on the torch to her new recruits. She sees how much more educated and professional they’ve become.

Foreseeing future challenges

At the luncheon, the honorees were asked how they see the future of their individual fields. While Tarleton mentioned sustaining facilities like the university to educate future youths, most on the panel, including Cauce and Pillo, agreed that technology is a society-altering factor to be considered both positively and negatively.

Cauce said she’s starting to see the students she works with rely more and more on technology to communicate, even if they’re sitting at the same table.

“I really think that there are some folks, like myself, that worry a little bit about what it’s doing in terms of human connections,” Cauce said. “But at the same time, I think it offers fabulous opportunities in the way that things can go viral and it’s a lot harder to hide injustice because of the way in which we communicate.”

In addition, Gloria Northcroft, honoree pharmacist and governing board member of the Seattle Children’s Hospital, sees it as beneficial for health research and care.

“The pharmacists have the tools at their fingertips to determine if there is something wrong and if there is a change that needs to take place,” Northcroft said. “To make sure that we, as people and as patients, are helped by the medicines we think should help us.”

Cauce currently is on the internal advisory board for the Broadening the Representation of Academic Investigators in NeuroScience (BRAINS), a national program that helps accelerate and improve the career advancements of postdoctoral researchers in the field. Pillo is the director of the Bellevue Police Foundation, created to raise money to support the department. In April, Northcroft and her husband received the Citizens of the Year award.

To conclude the luncheon, Bonnie Miller, the program host, surveyed the audience, asking how many use Facebook and Twitter. Most of the attendees raised their hand, further confirming technology’s grasp on society.

Empowering women of color

The eight women join a growing group of strong women who have been honored by Women by Color Empowered.

“It’s an incredible honor. I feel very proud, very privileged, and very humbled. Look at the other women. What a group to be a part of,” said Cause.

Other honorees include Martha Choe, chief administrative officer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Trish Carpenter, president of Bellevue LifeSpring; Anu Jain, vice president for community relations at Intelius; and Marie Zackuse, secretary of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington.

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