Seattle Culture

Women Making History Month

Grace Yoo seeks to reshape the Washington Women’s Commission

By Rob Smith March 1, 2024

Grace Yoo is at the forefront of reshaping the Washington Women’s Commission.

Grace Yoo sums up the mission of the Washington Women’s Commission in five seemingly simple words: “When women thrive, Washington thrives.”

Yoo, a former Starbucks executive and diplomat with the U.S. Foreign Service, took over as director of the Women’s Commission 10 months ago. Her mission: to raise its profile. It was created on a shoestring budget several years ago.

Yoo says most of the 3.8 million women across the state are unaware that the commission even exists. Its annual budget is only $600,000, and it has only four employees.

Yoo, though, is pursuing some big ideas despite that small budget. She successfully lobbied Gov. Jay Inslee to declare March “Women Making History Month,” instead of the traditional “Women’s History Month.” That seemingly minor change carries big meaning.

“(The month) is nationally recognized, and we just wanted to put a little spin on it,” she says. “It is intended to uplift and recognize the importance of ongoing progress being made by women today and into the future. To celebrate not only famous notable women from history, but the everyday women strengthening our state, oftentimes behind the scenes and in unglamourous, underpaid roles as frontline caregivers, educators, and parents.”

During her brief tenure, Yoo has also expanded the commission’s mission beyond more conventional women’s policy areas such as reproductive health and safety issues around domestic violence to include economic empowerment. The commission is gearing up to launch a statewide campaign called “Activate 3.8,” named for the 3.8 million women across the state.

A good chunk of Activate 3.8 revolves around ensuring that recently passed legislation mandating that corporate boards consist of at least 25% women (by 2025) succeeds; and a statewide campaign in partnership with the Girl Scouts to expose more women and girls to careers in the state’s largest industries.

Yoo notes that studies show Washington is among the 10 worst states for gender and racial pay equity. The state Employment Security Department found in 2021 that men across the state made 55% more on average than women. The state’s largest industries — aerospace, technology, construction, and trades — traditionally have a lower number of women in the workforce. She hopes that calling attention to that kind of “occupational segregation” could influence future policy initiatives.

She also wants to rename the commission the “Office of Women’s Policy and Initiatives” to better reflect its role as an executive branch state agency.

The commission has scheduled events to celebrate Women Making History Month, including one from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. March 8 at the Women Painters of Washington Gallery in Seattle’s Columbia Center that highlights global voices on gender equity.

“Ultimately, I see our agency positioning Washington to lead the way nationally on innovative, practical policy that improves the lives of everyday women,” she says.

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