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Senator Patty Kuderer

Senator Patty Kuderer: A True Leader, Putting People First

A mom, attorney, and long-time community advocate, Patty Kuderer, the first female State Senator from Washington’s 48th Legislative District, is setting an instance of dedicated leadership for aspiring women leaders. In an interview with Insights Success, Patty shares some valuable insights into her journey, full of passion, perseverance and undulating moments.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Kindly take us through your journey on becoming a proficient leader.

In Vince Lombardi’s words “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.”

I was born on Election Day during winter in Minnesota. The sixth of nine children, my mom was in fierce labor when she insisted on stopping to vote before heading to the hospital, weather notwithstanding. Before I became a teenager, my dad was elected County Attorney in our small farming community just north of the Iowa border. I was told he was the first Democrat ever elected to any position in the County. After his years of public service ended, I heard from folks he helped through tragic and desperate occasions, oftentimes without asking for anything in return. While I was touched to hear these stories, they didn’t surprise me because we all knew that being a responsible community member meant helping others.

From as long as I can remember, men – not women – were viewed as leaders. So to become one myself took practice. I stepped up to the challenge when opportunities appeared. Most of the time I felt I had done a good job, other times it was just painful. All of those experiences, however, helped me develop the leadership skills I would eventually need as a legislator to craft effective policy to help the working families of Washington.

I have natural problem-solving skills and became a lawyer to help people. My law practice has been dedicated primarily to employment discrimination, addressing income inequality, the employment opportunity gap, and harassment in the workplace. The lack of women in decision-making roles in large corporations is a stark reminder of challenges we as women face to establish life on par with our male counterparts. My family taught me to help others, so I gravitated to helping women and children, supporting purpose-driven organizations and contributing to progressive campaigns. It was my contribution to creating the change I wanted to witness in the world – namely a progressive and inclusive society. And it remained my way until I was asked to run for the State Legislature.

I always knew who I thought should run for office, but those thoughts did not include me. However, when friends from the local party chapter urged me to throw my hat in the ring, I realized that if I won, I would have the chance to effect real change on a much larger scale, and to help right the injustices I routinely saw in life. In 2015 I did “win,” through appointment to the House of Representatives where I served for a little over a year. Just after winning the election as a House member, I was again appointed, this time to the Senate, where I became the first female State Senator from Washington’s 48th Legislative District. I ran successful Senate campaigns in 2017 and 2018 and now lead as Chair of the Housing Stability & Affordability Committee and Assistant Majority Floor Leader.

It was clear from both of my parents that people mattered more than things, the family was paramount, and that we were to “treat everyone with respect.” Those are values I keep with me to this day.

What are the vital traits that every woman leader should possess?

Leaders develop their leadership style and traits over time.
Based on my experience, great women leaders possess the following qualities.

  1. Passion to drive change
  2. Determination to achieve their goal
  3. Compassion to connect with people
  4. Practicing effective communication skills

As a rule, I find women are more collaborative than men and are more interested in solving the problems by putting people first. That attitude combined with a passion to drive change gets people’s attention. Having compassion, or empathy, gives you a sense of what it is like to walk in another’s shoes. Most of us weren’t born on third base; and understanding the challenges of working families from realworld experiences (including your own) brings authenticity to your work. Finally, being a good communicator is a great skill in any profession, but it is particularly so in politics. Being able to humanize issues through stories has changed more than one person’s mind. And growing up with eight siblings, I have a lot of stories.

As per your opinion, what roadblocks or challenges were faced by your political journey? And how did you overcome them?

I did not take the “usual” road to the Legislature. I had not previously held elected office, though I had served as a prosecutor and city attorney for many years and represented governmental agencies in complex, multi-party lawsuits in the courts. And never mind that the males who immediately preceded me had never been elected to anything before going into the Legislature. I was still expected to follow a set path up the political ladder. That argument was not effective. This idea that there is a “right” way for a woman to move up the ladder doesn’t fit today’s world. As women, we don’t need to “suffer” or “pay our dues” to be a leader. Societal norms need to change to keep up with the rest of the world and bring more women into our politics, the judiciary, and all the industries, including technology and finance.

Why do you think technology is an essential need people cannot ignore?

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we consume technology. Today, the internet and access to basic technology is a necessity like water and electricity.

During the current health crisis, our children are educated primarily through the internet. Telemedicine is saving lives. Corporations rely more on remote work options enabled by technological innovations. However, this pandemic has also revealed the great digital divide like never before. Certain parts of Washington State are without access to high-speed internet, a pressing need that has only become more urgent since this health crisis hit. Along with my colleagues like Senator Lisa Wellman, I am working to ensure the digital divide becomes a relic of the past, so everyone has access to our 21st-century economy.

What are some of the policies you have employed to ensure gender diversity?

We created a Women’s Commission in Washington State to focus on women’s issues surrounding inclusivity, equity and diversity. We recently passed a law to incentivize corporations to employ more female leaders on their boards. We continue to recognize the excellent efforts of Women in Cloud and the economic impact of technological innovations that create more jobs and access to role models.

What are your future endeavors/objectives and where do you see yourself in the near future?

Following the birth of my daughter, I realized our healthcare insurance system was broken. My daughter was born extremely premature, weighed under two pounds, and spent five months in the hospital. Her treatment, including three surgeries, helped save her life. She was still medically fragile when I was finally able to bring her home. And when we arrived, I found a letter from the insurance company telling me my tiny infant had nearly reached her lifetime cap of healthcare insurance.

That is when I knew our healthcare system was irredeemably broken and my quest for a better plan started. Obamacare was a step in the right direction – it ended lifetime caps and denials for pre-existing conditions. But millions are still uninsured and the law itself remains under assault today by those that believe healthcare is a privilege. I believe it is a right, and that everyone should have access to healthcare. Moreover, this pandemic has revealed the foolishness of tying healthcare to employment.

We can cover everyone, make healthcare portable, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. And I intend to keep working on that until it’s a reality.