Since becoming director of the Department of Licensing in 2018, Teresa Berntsen has made it a priority to build productive relationships with cross-cultural and underserved communities. She moved quickly to create the agency’s first Office of Equity and Inclusion, whose goal is to ensure everyone has a voice in how they access information and services. She implemented mandatory training for all DOL employees to help develop cultural competencies in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And she’s the driving force behind the agency’s outreach efforts, including an ongoing campaign to prepare all Washington residents — regardless of citizenship status — for air travel ID law changes coming in 2020.
Most importantly, she has made a difference. That was the key takeaway last week in Seattle, where she was honored with the Building Bridges Across the Nation Award by the Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee (WASITRAC).
Speaking to a packed room of 60 community leaders, many representing the South Asian community in Washington state and beyond, DOL Deputy Chief Information Officer Vel Rajagopal said Berntsen’s core value is to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
“Her biggest strength as a leader is her willingness to be vulnerable,” Rajagopal said. “She considers vulnerability not a weakness, but a strength that brings out the authentic self. I have been personally inspired by her humility and compassion toward the communities we serve.”
Also honored at the event were Rita Meher of Tasveer.org, Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez, and Justice Ketu Shah of the King County District Court.