This Women’s History Month, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is highlighting some of the depth and breadth of women leaders in our office as part of our “Women in Leadership” series. These profiles are only a few of the many amazing women in our office.
How long have you worked at the PAO?
I started with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (PAO) in 1995 as a Rule 9 intern in the Civil Division. I interned for the Land Use and Contracts Sections. I started in the office as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney (DPA) in 1996 and was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff in 2000. I was appointed to Chief of Staff in 2007.
Here is my story: When I started law school, my goal was to become a land use attorney. I was intrigued by the conflict that surrounded land use issues. I was certain that there had to be a better way for government regulators and landowners to work together on what seemed like complex and divisive issues — so I was really excited to intern in the Land Use Section, and I was even more excited to be offered a DPA position in the Land Use Section right out of law school.
However, about six months into the job, I realized that land use practice was not what I thought it would be and that I wasn’t that crazy about it (no offense to all of you fine land use practitioners out there!). About that time, a litigation position in the office opened up, and I made leap to it, even though in law school, I found all of my litigation classes intimidating. What I discovered about myself was that I was pretty good at litigation and that I really enjoyed it.
After spending a few years litigating primarily surface water and road cases, I made a pitch to move to the Employment Law Section. Just as I was getting ready to make the move, I received a call from Norm Maleng, who was our elected Prosecuting Attorney at that time. Norm asked me to meet with Dan Satterberg (who was the Chief of Staff at that time). My first thought was one of panic. I remember thinking, “Is this how they fire people from the office?”
When I met with Dan, he informed me he and Norm were hiring a new Deputy Chief of Staff because Mary Yu (our first Deputy Chief of Staff) had been appointed to the Superior Court bench.
At the time, I remember being nervous about whether I would enjoy the job and wondering if I had what it took to be successful at it. Fortunately, I had amazing mentors in my life who encouraged me, reminded me of my strengths, and who pointed out that “this door opens one way, and you should have faith and walk through it.” So I made the leap and have never regretted it.
In 2007, Norm unexpectedly passed away. It was a time of unbelievable sadness for the PAO. Fortunately, Dan successfully ran for the unexpired term. After his election, Dan asked me to serve as his Chief of Staff.
What does it mean to be Chief of Staff?
When people ask me what it means to be the Chief of Staff, I explain that I function much like the Chief Operating Officer of a small to midsize corporation. My job is about managing budget, communications, technology and human resource strategies in a way that serves the more than 500 employees who dedicate their time and professional careers to us.
One of the best parts about my job is the freedom Dan gives me (which is born out of trust) to shape and modernize our government law office practice. This allows me to think about our resources and business in a more corporate way. It’s not uncommon to hear me talk about the PAO’s brand, making the right investments to get the highest returns, rightsizing resources, modernizing technology, and leadership and organizational development and change management.
My job is about making the right investments in our people, who are our number one resource. It’s about making sure our business practices stay modern and current. It’s about making sure that we remain a top employer and a place where people are happy to work. It’s about trying to really manage our too skinny resources to accomplish as much as possible and making changes that benefit our lines of business and practice areas.
I have a dream job. And as sentimental as this sounds, I love our PAO team, and I love that I get to partner with really smart people to solve challenging and complex problems in order to make, at least part of the world, a better place.
What sort of changes have you seen in our time at the PAO?
A few things come to mind: The first is seeing the office continue to evolve its practice of investing in its employees. I think it is important to stay current and modern on what it means to be a leader within the office, what it means to be a Senior DPA, what it means to be a supervisor, and continuing to encourage people lead from wherever they are — separate and apart from title.
The second is seeing the office evolving its understanding and efforts in building an inclusive environment. This is work that never stops, and I am so proud of our employees for really leaning into this work. Their ideas and perspectives continue to improve all parts of our office and our work.
And a third is our office’s continued and ever-growing partnerships with communities we serve. Way back in 2011, I worked with community leaders to develop, launch, and build what is now known as Choose 180 (in 2011, it started as “the 180 Program”). Serving as one of the leaders who brought that program to life will be always be one of the highlights of my career. And the legacy of the 180 Program is that it serves as an important marker of a new way of thinking and as an example of collaborative problem-solving.
When I think about something within the office that never changes, it is the amazing individuals who work for our office. I am impressed by their talent, inspired by their brilliant ideas, and humbled by their dedication and commitment to the office. They are, hands-down, the best part of working for the PAO.
What sort of obstacles have you faced in your field? What was it like dealing with those?
A challenge women face is that we have been conditioned to have these unconscious expectations and images of how women should perform in the office or how women leaders should present. For example, I think women who are outspoken can be unfairly criticized for “rocking the boat” or “being too loud.” Similarly, I think women who are soft spoken can be unfairly characterized as not being confident or assertive enough, particularly if compared to more outspoken colleagues.
Another challenge women face is that we tend to carry a fair amount of guilt as we strive to balance work, life, family, and self-care. I think it’s easy to operate from this place of guilt, and as a result, we may not always make the best decisions for ourselves. I’m not suggesting that men don’t have similar challenges; I just think that it’s different for women. My advice is to build a network of supportive mentors, colleagues and friends. Having a trusted group to reach out to for support can help reduce feelings of isolation and overwhelm.
I am really proud of the office for being progressive and being aware of and challenging these notions, yet, I know we still have work to do and that women are sometimes still struggling — even in our amazing office. I am talking about this — not to criticize — but to continue to raise awareness. If we do not talk about these challenges, then we will not be able to affectively dismantle them.
What advice would you give to other women who are considering a similar career path?
Pay attention to the tape that plays in your head. Find ways to erase any messages that try to convince you that you’re not enough. Trust that you are skilled and worthy of leading. Find the mentors and affinity groups that support you and help you trust in your skill and vision.
Find mentors and support both inside and outside the office. Mentors outside the office offer important objectivity. Sometimes it is important to have fresh eyes or ears to offer a new perspective or open up a different line of thinking.
Catch up with the entire KCPAO Women in Leadership series on our blog at kcprosecutor.medium.com.