Chair Kafoury takes part in City of Portland panel for Women’s History Month

March 12, 2015

From left: Amalia Alarcon de Morris; Anna Kanwit; Leah Treat; Fire Chief Erin Janssens; Chair Kafoury and Penelope Lutdke

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and four other prominent women leaders in local government took part in dynamic Q & A session celebrating Women’s History Month on Wednesday, March 11. The event titled “Women Leaders in Government,” featured women in powerful positions -- from public office to public safety-- sharing their unique stories of success.   

“I grew up here in Portland and in a family where giving back to the community was expected,” explained Chair Kafoury. “In 2008, I ran for the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners and I was drawn to this line of work because helping people in need is what gets me out of bed in the morning, helping the most vulnerable, especially women, children and families experiencing poverty.”

The event was organized by the City of Portland’s Bureau of Technology Services Equity Committee in partnership with DEEP or Diverse and Empowered Employees of Portland and WAG or Women’s Affinity Group. The panel was well-suited for city’s 2015 National Women’s History Month theme of “weaving women’s stories -- individually and collectively - into the essential fabric of our nation’s history.”  

Other panelists for “Women Leaders in Government” event included the director of the City of Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement Amalia Alarcón de Morris; director of the City of Portland’s Human Resources Anna Kanwit ; director of the City of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation Leah Treat; and Portland Fire Chief Erin Janssens.   

After introductions, members of the audience were able to ask the panelists questions.

Chair Kafoury and the other panelist smile at a remark being made by director of the City of Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement Amalia Alarcón de Morris.

Have you had to curve your assertiveness? Can you talk about making the transition while being younger? How many glass ceilings have you guys run into over the course of your time and how did you break through your own glass ceilings?

“Becoming a firefighter was one,” explained Portland Fire Chief  Erin Janssens to the latter. “Becoming a lieutenant was another, becoming a captain, a county chief deputy and division chief … So I know exactly what you’re talking about. I think a lot of it has to do with you can see them [glass ceilings] but not let them push you down too much. It’s your attitude and how you approach it and not seeing it as a barrier.”  

“I think glass ceilings, they definitely exist,” said Chair Kafoury. “But having someone encourage you, I think that’s important. When I was running for the Oregon Legislature,  I didn’t see myself beyond that. The seat that was beyond me was Senator Margaret Carter, so I had her to look up to but I didn’t look beyond that.  And tt was now Governor Kate Brown who came to me and said you better start thinking about the next step. She said ‘you’ve got talent, you’ve got leadership and you could be the next speaker of the house’ and I thought, this is crazy talk. But with her guidance, I was empowered.”

The discussion wrapped up with a round applause and audience members noting how nice it was to have variety of perspectives.

“We were delighted to have such great role models share their stories,” said event organizer Penelope Lutdke. “It really helps to hear that they’re real people with commonalities we all share. We truly appreciate the time they spent with us.”