Q & A with Carol Mitchell
Posted on December 17, 2016
Since this Q&A was done, Mitchell has taken a new position with Pierce County as Director of Justice Services and Special Projects.
If Carol Mitchell looks familiar that’s probably because you’ve seen her on the Tacoma TV station CityLine. Mitchell is a host on the one-hour talk show that discusses community events, issues and programs happening in the area. However that’s not all she does, Mitchell has practiced law, held several high ranking positions and currently serves as a Metro Parks executive. The road it took for her to get there is an inspiring one. She received her first college degree at the age of 31, and a single mother of 3 young ones. Hope this Q&A inspires you to reach for the stars no matter what obstacles get in the way.
Name: Carol Mitchell
Age: 57 (5 grandchildren)
Occupation: Organizational Development and Human Resources Officer for Metro Parks Tacoma
PSP: We met several years ago when you were at the Port of Tacoma. Now you’re with Metro Parks. What do you do there?
MITCHELL: I handle everything from training to organizational design to labor relations to human resources recruitment, benefits, compensation, workers compensation everything that is remotely related to human resources or to organizational design or organizational development.
PSP: Your road to success wasn’t easy. You had many obstacles. How did you persevere to the person you area today?
MITCHELL: I’ve never been a straight line person. I was 31 and had 3 babies when I graduated from college (University of Washington) the first time. My first big HR job was at King 5 TV in Seattle. In Fact it was my boss at King who said, “Now you know you can do more than what you’re doing right now, but you’ll have to go back to school and finish that undergraduate degree.” He said, “And I know you have those three babies, you’re single, but don’t give me that as an excuse because I know you have the energy to do it and you need to get it done.” So they paid for part of my tuition and I went back to school and finished. He also would tell me, “Why don’t you just go to law school while you’re at it.” I was like, “No! I barely got through UW, there’s no way I’m going to turn right back around and get into law school.” Two years later I finally applied and started law school at Seattle University. I practiced law for about 10 years. In 2012 I finished my second degree from Seattle U. I went back to get my Masters in Organizational Development, so now I’m doing what I really love. I have that great legal education as a foundation, I’m not intimidated by the law and I just think the combination of two is powerful.
PSP: What advice do you have for professionals wanting to go back to school?
MITCHELL: I’m going to tell you what my former boss told me, “Don’t give me that as an excuse.” If you have children- It’s something you have to have a plan for. I was accepted at Mount HolyOke and some other places East, but where was I gonna put my three children? I had a young baby, a four-year-old and six-year-old. None of those schools had ever imagined that someone with 3 children would be on their campus. There was no family housing, I’m sure it’s different now but at the time it was like, huh? Somebody with kids? They were all women schools but they weren’t really set up for women like me. So my plan was to stay local and go to the University of Washington. Now I will say that if you do go- your children will come back and say, “Mom, you were so busy making it rain, going after your dreams that you didn’t come to my recital in the 5th grade.” and I’d reply, “You’re right, I didn’t. But you know that $500 you borrowed last week… Yeah, that’s the reason I’m able to do that for you.” It’s a tradeoff. My daughters have largely decided that they want to be there for their kids, and that’s fine. I’m there for their kids too. In different ways than they are but neither of those are a wrong decision. You can go after that dream, but don’t expect your kids 20 years down the road to necessarily be glad you did it. Because it’s going to take time away from them.
PSP: What are some challenges you face as a woman of color and holding executive positions?
MITCHELL: The more I understand about leadership and what leadership really is and how to influence people, the happier I am. There is no one size fits all. You can’t come in thinking there’s only one way to get things done. And for each person on that executive team, there’s probably a different approach that you need to take and it has less to do with if they’re white or male or from the South or the North. You have to build trust with people. In the absence of trust you can all be the same color, share the same cultural norms and have similar upbringings but you still will not get along. The lesson for me is; learn how to come into an organization and spend the time to build trust and relationships. Undersanding that not everyone is going to like you or appreciate you or want you to be there, but that’s their problem. When you can demonstrate that your credible because you keep your word and commitments, you deliver results, you don’t have an agenda, you’re not trying to embarrass someone or make them feel small, you come with good intent to be helpful to them and the organization and you’re a person of integrity that keeps their word. If you’re doing that then their opinion doesn’t really matter. Because you’re grounded and true to who you are and living in accordance with your value system. I think that if you do those things you build trust with the people you need to have trust you. And they will have your back with the others.
PSP: People recognize you from CityLine, a local tv show. How long have you been doing that?
MITCHELL: 17 in a half years that was suppose to be 3 weeks. That’s what I call divine plan. I believe very strongly in a divine plan for me. At the time I had no infront or behind camera experience at all, I had been a guest before. The next thing I knew I was filling in because the host had a health crisis and was expected to be back in 3 weeks. They told me, “Just do what you saw the host doing.” I didn’t know my camera from a hole in the ground. I was so unsophisticated and untrained it was ridiculous. I would hit the microphone, wear too much lipstick all kinds of stuff. I host once a week. It’s a way that I stay connected and get introduced to people that I otherwise wouldn’t meet except on that CityLine couch. I also volunteer, been doing that for at least 15 years.
PSP: What do you like most about the Pacific Northwest?
MITCHELL: The Fall, a cold morning with the sun out is my favorite thing in the world. It’s so beautiful with the trees turning colors. I’m not an outdoors person but I do like nature. So I like to walk through the parks, be by the water, within 2 hours of the ocean. However, I’m more of a Florida/Ft. Lauderdale A1A type. Give me the beach, sand, a hat, book and a Mai Tai and I’m good. When I retire my plan is to have a place up here when the weather is nice and a main place in Florida.