Even if you’re a newcomer to Washington state, chances are good that you know the name Gregoire. It is, after all, the surname of both our 22nd governor, Christine Gregoire, and Seattle Port Commissioner Courtney Gregoire.
Sure, being the daughter of a former governor had an influence on her career, says Courtney. “Both of my parents instilled [in me] a love of public service,” she says. But taking the leap into elected office took more than a legacy.
“It required some encouragement by family and friends, particularly my husband,” says Courtney, who won reelection in November 2015. “Today, I often get to provide that encouragement to others. I particularly love talking to young women who know they are ready to make a difference, but are nervous about running for office.”
In addition to being part of a team of five commissioners, Courtney has a day job. She’s assistant general counsel for Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (i.e., she fights cybercrime). It’s work that she says informs her time at the port; so does being a mother to 4-year-old Audrey and 2-year-old Alexa. To learn more, we talked with Courtney about her work, family and future.
OK, so what exactly does a port commissioner do?
[Our team of five commissioners] establishes Port policy and select the Port’s executive director … I want to make sure we are stewarding our tremendous public assets — from container terminals to the airport, Fishermen’s Terminal and marinas to waterfront parks and industrial lands — for the benefit of our entire region.
The Port has a unique role to play in supporting economic opportunity for our shrinking middle class … and a critical role to play protecting our natural environment. But, in my view, the Port has been traditionally undervalued by our communities and other elected officials. My hope is that by partnering with our communities and expanding opportunities, we can meaningfully address the widening income inequality gap and achieve our goal of being the greenest, most energy-efficient port in North America.
When you decided to run for office, did your mother have any advice?
Be yourself. All candidates for office receive lots of advice (both solicited and unsolicited), but women are often pushed to “be tougher” or “show your softer side.” (Yes, the same female candidate will probably get both pieces of conflicting advice.) My mom’s advice — and experience — helped me be more comfortable showing all facets of my personality, from being a fierce advocate to a mom who finds humor in most of my children’s antics.
When I think of the Port of Seattle, I imagine commerce, transport and a male-dominated culture of unions. Is that accurate? What has been your experience as a leader there?
I am proud to know many women trailblazers, and many of them are here at the Port of Seattle. But despite some progress, it is true that Ports and shipping remain one of the most male-dominated industries in the world. Only about 8 percent of employees at the 100 major seaports in America are women. As former President [Barack] Obama’s Director of the National Export Initiative, I experienced this firsthand. My work took me to dozens of Ports around the United States and internationally.
We can do better. Port-related industries offer good jobs, fascinating careers and inspiring opportunities to make a difference in your community. I’m focused on making Port-related jobs more accessible to women and persons of color through our expanded internship program (133 interns this summer) and our Apprenticeship Opportunities Project.
How does being a woman and mom influence your perspective of port operations and infrastructure?
As a working mom, I am very sensitive to workplace, wage and livability issues not just for Port employees but also for workers in Port-related industries. I’ve been an advocate of expanding paid leave for parents, which is something we were able to do for all Port employees last year.
I travel a lot for work, so I have strong opinions about being at the airport with and without your kids. This is why I pushed so hard for our new nursing suites at Sea-Tac airport. These suites provide private, comfortable space to nurse or pump — a vast improvement over bathroom stalls or other corners that new moms have to seek out. By the end of this year, we will have a total of seven private nursing spaces at the airport.
Sometimes sharing my personal experience can encourage others to consider positive changes. Last month, Alaska Airlines launched Elite Leave, a new program enabling Alaska Mileage Plan members to extend their elite status for an additional year when they go on parental leave.
Finally, being a mom is an amazing reminder of how early experiences shape our children’s views of their place in the world and what opportunities they might have to shape it. I want to find more ways to connect young people and young families with the Port, whether through family-friendly tours of the working waterfront or internship opportunities.
What are some family-friendly features of the port that our readers might not have heard of?
Our annual favorite is the Fall Fishermen’s Festival at Fishermen’s Terminal. The free event on Sept. 24 celebrates the return of the fishing fleet. The festival features live music, crafts, cooking demonstrations, and kids get to touch and hold all kinds of fish!
For families who are interested in volunteerism, we would love to have you join us at a community cleanup event. This past Earth Day, I had my daughters at Terminal 117 to help with planting [new plants] and removing invasive plants (as well as cupcake eating). [To get details on volunteer options, the Port of Seattle recommends signing up for a bi-weekly newsletter at portseattle.org.]