#CPRSVAN60 Series: Women Pioneers of CPRS Vancouver (Part One)

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This year marks CPRS Vancouver’s 60th anniversary. To honour this milestone, we’ve launched #CPRSVAN60, an initiative focused on highlighting some of the amazing work and talented professionals that have contributed to CPRS Vancouver over the last six decades. In this edition, we hear from Carla Shore, APR FCPRS and some amazing women pioneers involved in PR in Vancouver over the years. Come chat with Carla and other CPRS leaders at our 60th anniversary event being held on June 13th at the Bill Reid Gallery. Register here!

“Working flat out, day to day, most of us don’t stop to think about the fact we are making history. We all started somewhere, and we’ve all evolved into public relations professionals.”

-- Susan Jamieson-McLarnon, APR, LM, CPRS Vancouver Past President ‘86-‘87

When I moved to Vancouver to work in PR more than (gasp!) 20 years ago, all around me at CPRS Vancouver I saw successful, smart women working in our profession. We had a woman CPRS President, and a large number of PR agencies were owned or run by women. Yes, there were more men in senior positions, especially in the corporate and government worlds of PR, but there were a lot of strong women in leadership roles who I looked up to.

Deborah Folka, APR FCPRS LM was president of CPRS Vancouver when I moved here, and when I soon applied to obtain my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) , Francine Gaudet, APR FCPRS LM and Lori Chortyk, APR helped me (immensely!) through it. Mat Wilcox, Nancy Spooner, Della Smith, Karen Cook Porter and many other women led agencies. Women ran PR departments at major organizations, like Geraldine Vance, Leigh Carter, Darlene Hyde and more. And many successful PR entrepreneurs made me believe I could eventually hang out my own shingle as a ‘boutique PR agency.’ It was really motivating to see women in charge in Vancouver.

In fact, about five decades ago the first female CPRS Vancouver member was Mildred Jeffery, APR. No one is positive when she was allowed to become a member (CPRS lifer Pauline Buck believes Dean Miller was President at that time and fought to let her join), but she went on to become the first female president of PRSBC, now CPRS Vancouver in 1973-74. In 2002, Ms. Jeffery was named a Life Member of the chapter. When she passed away in 2015 many CPRS members shared fond memories of her.

Many more women followed her into the President’s chair. Susan Jamieson-McLarnon was CPRS Vancouver’s third female President from 1986-87. Francine Gaudet was President of CPRS Vancouver in 1989-90. Peggy John, APR LM led the group in 1992-93, Deborah Folka in 1995-96, Deborah Skaey, APR in 1996-97, and the list goes on up to today with CPRS Vancouver’s current female President, Johanna Ward. Nearly all have their APR, many have been inducted into the CPRS College of Fellows and many have been named Lifetime Members.

How did Vancouver, and CPRS in particular, attract so many women into senior leadership roles in PR?

“There has always been such a strong connection among individuals,” says Ms. Gaudet. “I always feel comfortable calling people and asking for their help. And I’m always happy to take calls from people as well. There’s a really strong connection with the society that I appreciate.”

That mentorship and helpfulness rings true of my own experience of CPRS, and is still evident today.

Of course, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for PR’s female pioneers in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and even in today’s #metoo era. Many of these PR leaders have stories about how difficult it was to be a woman in male-dominated circles.

“In the 90s, I was fired from a senior leadership role and told it was because ‘a woman couldn’t do the job,’” says Ms. Folka. “I don’t think anyone would risk saying that today…but there’s likely someone who still thinks it! We hope they are in the minority now.”

“I was often on boards as the only woman,” says Ms. Skaey. “That taught me that I had to be in line with them. That was challenging in the beginning but you needed to gain their respect. I had to be very strong. It was a challenge also in that your advice was not taken because you were a woman. Hopefully that has changed.”

We all know there a lot of women in PR, and it’s been that way for decades, but it’s refreshing to take stock of how many women in Vancouver were (and are!) in leadership roles in public relations. Not only were they leaders in their own organizations, but they took the time to also become leaders of CPRS Vancouver and contribute to make growth, networking and mentorship possible for many other women (and men) in PR. They paved the way for me, for the generation that came after me, and for the generations coming after them as well.

“Congratulations to the members of CPRS Vancouver for their commitment to a profession that seeks answers to the new challenges presented by changing conditions,” says Ms. Jamieson-McLarnon. “I enjoyed every day – well, almost every day.”

About the Author

Carla Shore APR FCPRS has been a member of CPRS since sometime in the 90s. She served on the CPRS Vancouver board as senior PD chair in 2012-13, has been an APR judge for more than 15 years, was the program chair for the 2017 national conference, and has volunteered with three CPRS chapters as well as nationally for more than two decades. She leads her own boutique agency, C-Shore Communications Inc.

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