Seattle Culture

Trailblazing Women: Lynne Varner

CEO, Washington STEM

By Lynne Varner June 12, 2024

Portrait of a smiling woman with curly hair in a garden, wearing a jacket and a blouse, in black and white.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

I don’t see myself as a trailblazer. Instead, call me a trail runner nimbly following paths laid by so many brilliant, amazing women who came before me. Some of those women are mentors who showed me not just who I could be, but how I could be. We tell young people if they can see it, they can be it. Well, someone has to help them map out the many, many steps to get there.

I moved to Seattle as a young, idealistic journalist and have lived here for nearly 30 wonderful and sometimes challenging years. Many Black professionals who came West would agree that it takes a special kind of fortitude to not only come to Seattle, but to stay. I’ve faced hurdles in this beautiful place I’ve learned to call home, and some of them are unique to being a Black woman challenging the status quo.

A universal rule of humanity is that we all face challenges. We all fall on the wrong side of someone’s judgment. Add race and gender biases to that unholy mix, and therein lies the bumpy road Black women face as we work to survive and thrive in Seattle.

I credit a mix of things for my endurance and success, and Seattle’s innovative spirit matches mine. I learned my own resilience and grit the hard way from a childhood that scored high on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) scale. Also necessary to my survival has been the community of women excelling in business, technology, education, and the arts who mentor and support me.

Despite all the DEI efforts, I still step into places where I am one of only a handful of women, and often the only Black woman.

Staying in Seattle has been worth it. My career as an award-winning journalist took off out here. When The Seattle Times Editorial Board tapped me to join it, I was only the second Black woman and one of only a few Black female editorial writers and columnists nationwide.

Despite all the DEI efforts ongoing in communities and corporate America, I still step into spaces where I am one of only a handful of women, and often the only Black woman. True gender and racial parity will come in Seattle when we simply open the doors of C-suites and boardrooms to women and people of color who deserve to be there, and are more than capable of taking us all to the next level of innovation and growth.

One of the things I love most about my work at Washington STEM is engaging with the girls and young women in our Rising Stars program. They are exploring STEM education and building their own leadership skills in fun and transformative ways. I want them to have the resilience and optimism that powered my younger self — so that they, too, can become trail runners.

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