Women across a range of professionals shared their professional challenges and achievements at Edmonds’ fourth International Women’s Day on Saturday. Held this year at the Edmonds Waterfront Center, the event was hosted by Alicia Crank of Crank’d Up Consulting and Megan Wolfe of Girls on the Run, with the 2022 theme ‘Break the Bias’.
First celebrated in 1911 in Europe, International Women’s Day was officially adopted by the United Nations in 1975. It recognizes the achievements of women throughout society and raises awareness of the persistent inequality of women.
Saturday’s event – which drew 100 people in person and another 100 who watched virtually – featured two panels. The first included female judges from Snohomish County – Anna Alexander, Linda Coburn and Whitney Rivera. A fourth participant in the program, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Cassandra Lopez-Shaw, died March 4 of cancer and a moment of silence was observed in her honor. Crank praised Lopez-Shaw, calling her both a friend and a mentor. Another Superior Court judge, Alexander, said Lopez-Shaw inspired not only her, but many other people as well.
One of the topics addressed by the judges was how the courts are providing innovative accommodations to help women in various court situations.
“In the new Everett courthouse there is now a nursing room,” Alexander said. “At a recent jury trial, I had not one, but two nursing mothers on my jury.” These accommodations were due to “having women in charge,” Alexander said. “Having women in places where we know the person in front of us, that we know what their struggle might be or what they might need is important.”
Linda Coburn, a former Edmonds Municipal Court judge who now sits on the Washington State Court of Appeals, also spoke about the difficulty women with children can have trying to be part of a jury.
“I’ve seen judges berate women for showing up in the courtroom with their children,” Coburn said. “Because from their point of view, it’s not a suitable place for children because we talk about very serious issues there. And that’s true, but if they (women) are in a situation where they don’t have no choice, pat her on the back – she came to court.Coburn said she knew judges who, instead of scolding mothers, had crayons and coloring books available for children who appeared in court.
Edmonds Municipal Court Judge Whitney Rivera pointed out that women disproportionately bear the burden of childcare and if they have no one to look after their children they will be excused from doing part of a jury.
“Studies show that female juries are more thoughtful and accurate in terms of their ability to recall evidence and discuss issues – so this not only impacts which jurors are excluded, but also the defendant, who doesn’t have much of a diverse jury like she or he should,” Rivera said.
The second panel presented by Crank was made up of female leaders from the Edmonds Police Department: Chief of Police Michelle Bennett, Financial Crimes Detective Julie Govantes and Community Engagement Officer Tabatha Shoemake.
“What I love about you three is that you engage people,” Crank told the panelists. “When we talk about bias it can take many avenues, especially in the realm of law enforcement. And I speak as a black woman who grew up in Detroit knowing police officers and was one of the few people who wasn’t anti-police growing up. I can only imagine what it’s like to be a woman in blue, or a black woman, or a black person in blue.
She then invited the panel to talk about what it’s like to be a black woman or officer.
“Our officers are far more diverse than our community,” Shoemake said. “And the officers who are there are wonderful and supportive.”
But there are still opportunities for better understanding. Recently, Shoemake said a colleague asked her about her upcoming move to a new office in the Safeway Marketplace mall on Highway 99, calling it “going ghetto.” Shoemake said her first inclination was to walk away, but she realized that if she did, she would allow that person to continue to refer to parts of Edmonds in a negative light.
Instead, she replied, “The fact that you say that to me, a black woman, as if I were being sent to the ghetto. Do you understand how that can be a bit offensive? And call it the ghetto? Shoemake said the colleague apologized and acknowledged that he hadn’t thought before speaking.
“Just letting you know what the world looks like today,” Shoemake replied. “We have to move forward. You need to go forward. »
Govantes said that before joining the Edmonds Police Department, “I had no idea about Edmonds PD, I had never been to the Pacific Northwest, I had never been on the west coast. I’ve always been an east coaster. I remember I googled the photo of the PD department of Edmonds and saw a black woman, and I smiled. I smiled because I knew I wasn’t going to be the first. Govantes said that when she attends recruiting events, she thinks when people see her, a black woman, they’re more willing to believe that they can too. to be policemen.
Chief Bennett spoke of her early days facing prejudice as a female police officer in 1989. In 1990, she was hired by the King County Sheriff’s Office, but women in law enforcement were still very news, and Bennett responded when comments like, “You should be home barefoot and pregnant, and you’re a woman, you can’t handle yourself.” She admits that those were tough times.
In 2016, she was interviewed by a Washington newspaper and the title of the article, when it was published, read: “The first of its kind”.
“What am I? An alien?” Bennett joked. “Today I don’t think I’m a woman,” she continued. “I am a law enforcement officer. There are certainly cultural changes that we are still making. In our department, we are about 35% non-white male, which is the highest in the state. »
But even with that, Bennett said, “There are still things we have to overcome. Women represent 50% of the population because we are not represented like that; the average is about 10% women in our department, so we have work to do.
Bennett credited Govantes’ extensive recruiting efforts for the department, as well as Acting Deputy Police Chief Josh McClure for his work hiring phenomenal individuals.
The keynote speakers for Saturday’s event were Tracy Taylor, KIRO 7 traffic presenter, and Dr. Melissa Sassi, Ph.D. of IBM Z.
Taylor spoke about her career progression and the issues that still persist for women in radio and media.
“Even now, in our time, it’s interesting how you think women on radio should be a no-brainer,” Taylor said. “We work as hard as our male counterparts, but there are still women who are denied the realization of their dreams on radio and in the media.”
Taylor also enjoys helping women interested in careers in radio learn the ins and outs of broadcasting.
“I work with a nonprofit organization called Women in Radio, which I love so much,” she said. “It’s a group of women in business who have been shut down time and time again. I mentor women who are getting into the business. I sit down with some of these young women and listen to their airchecks and I helps them develop their voice so they can feel more confident behind the microphone.
Melissa Sassi, whose three children were victims of parental abduction in the northwest African nation of Tunisia, is founder and CEO of MentorNations, a youth-led digital movement that has taught thousands of young people to code in 12 countries.
Her worst nightmare of having her children abducted has become her “superpower”, she said. “My life had no meaning. I couldn’t get my children back and the police told me it was a civil matter.
After many failed attempts with lawyers and trips to Tunisia, Sassi learned through a digital conversation with her daughter that she was learning Microsoft in a class of 30 children with a single computer. Sassi said she then realized that while she couldn’t do some things as a mother because of distance, she could bring devices into her daughter’s classroom. So she acquired 30 computers for the girls’ class in Tunisia and 400 computers for 20 other schools – all provided by Microsoft and HP.
“I may not have been the mother I wanted to be, I could have been or should have been,” Sassi said, “but I worked at Microsoft and I thought I should be able to. get computers for these classrooms, so that’s what I decided to do.
The good news is that six months ago, Sassi’s oldest daughter, now 20, joined her and made the necessary arrangements to live in the United States.
Edmonds International Women’s Day sponsors included Cline Jewelers, Crank’d Up Consulting, DME CPA Group, Michelle M. Osborne, JD & Associates, Girls on the Run of Snohomish County, Reefcombers Studios, Here and There, Rogue Boutique, Morgan & Moss, Workhorse HQ, National Organization for Women – Seattle Chapter, KDMC, KIRO 7, EPIC Group Writers, At Work! and Harvey Homes.
— Story and photos by Misha Carter