When Suzi LeVine was sworn in as the US ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, she placed her hand on a copy of the Constitution on her e-reader opened to the 19th Amendment. The former technology executive with degrees in English and mechanical engineering with aerospace applications — and mother of two — was aware of what that moment signified.
But she makes it clear that this story is not just about her. Moving her family to Bern has been an adventure that requires team participation and new roles.
“The [Obama] administration has had a big focus on diversity writ large,” she says. Suzi and her husband, Eric, have given presentations around the region on this topic.
“Part of what we talk about is that in order to create space for women to lead, for people to be in positions like Suzi as the US ambassador, society needs to do a better job of giving families the space and the dignity to make the choices that matter for them,” says Eric.
Eric, a former Microsoft employee who co-invented the error reporting dialogue box (you know the one) and who left the tech world to start CellarTracker — a pet project that evolved to become the web’s largest collection of wine reviews and tasting notes — has shifted to being the main caretaker of their kids, Sidney and Talia. “People don’t know how to treat the man who’s at home versus the woman,” he says.
“When we speak to groups of startups, which are often groups of men, we emphasize, ‘Listen, in order to build the best team you can, hire people who don’t think or look like you,’” Suzi says. “Hire people who have diverse backgrounds, because you know what? You can’t think about all the scenarios that are relevant to the business and product you’re creating.” She underscores the point with a funny moment from her first weeks at Microsoft, when she was the only woman on the team. “They were trying to name a feature of the new version of MS-DOS, and they came to the table with something like ‘maxi protection technology,’” she says. “When we talk about this in a room of men and women, the women all laugh, and for the men, I have to spell it out,” Eric adds.
Suzi, who went on to assume leadership positions at Microsoft and Expedia in addition to cofounding the Kavana Cooperative on Queen Anne, thinks about technology and diversity a lot. It’s one of the values Switzerland and the United States share. One thing the LeVines are trying to export to the United States is Switzerland’s successful apprenticeship system. “To meet a 16-year-old building a spacecraft or acting as a chemical engineer or making and selling cheese products is not unusual,” she says. “The maturity level for young people is super high, and they exceed it.” With the LeVines’ help, Colorado has already introduced an apprenticeship model.
With a new administration in place, the LeVines will return to Seattle in January to start their next adventure. Eric is looking forward to his tenure on the prestigious Holocaust Memorial Council of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, to which President Obama nominated him, and Suzi ponders the future. “I still want to be an astronaut,” she says. “More seriously, I wake up every day wanting to make the world a better place. That when we leave this planet, not just in a rocket, it’ll be a better place than when we landed on it.”