Part of International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8, is to commemorate the cultural, political and socioeconomic achievements of women.
The PQB News spoke with four Parksville Qualicum Beach area women in leadership roles that help shape their communities.
The current deputy corporate administrator and acting chief administrative officer for the Town of Qualicum Beach, Heather Svensen, has worked for the town for nearly 18 years.
“It’s been a great career,” she said. “I was excited that I was working to make a difference in my community.”
Svensen grew up on a farm in the Comox Valley where the innumerable hours of hard work helped to shape who she is. “Both my parents instilled in me really strong work ethics and I think that’s what got me to where I am today,” she said.
Since April 2014, Svensen has worked for the municipality; first as the CA’s assistant and then as a deputy CA in 2007.
“Having never worked in local government, I knew I needed to jump in with both feet and learn the role,” she said.
In 2014, she was promoted to CA, and in July 2020 she was appointed as the deputy CAO. Since November 2021, Svensen has also held the position of acting CAO.
Another woman providing leadership for the Town of Qualicum Beach is Coun. Anne Skipsey.
Skipsey said she hadn’t always considered working for the Qualicum Beach municipality, but after working as a deputy clerk for the City of Burnaby in 2002, she started to think about moving back so she could apply what she learned as an elected official.
“Then, I knew I wanted to do something where I could make a difference for the people in my community.”
While working for the City of Burnaby, Skipsey also worked with the mayor and council where she attended meetings, recorded the actions and decisions of council and provide procedural advice. She also worked at the city’s chief election officer.
To Skipsey, ensuring women are at the decision making table is very important.
“Otherwise, there’s decisions that are made without having that perspective… And if there isn’t any room at the table for more diversity, then sometimes we need to add more chairs,” she said.
In the City of Parksville, two women also sit as council members: Coun. Teresa Patterson and Coun. Marilyn Wilson.
“When I was elected, I was the youngest female that had served in Parksville,” said Patterson, adding that there were more women on council during her first and second terms than there have been recently. “It started when I knew I wanted to do more.”
Patterson’s journey to the council table started 15 years ago while she was a director for the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce.
Her decision to run came from routinely attending council meetings and her will to make an impactful change in the city.
“We’ve only had women in politics for 100 years…With women in politics now – I think it’s only at 30 per cent, and only in the last 10 to 15 years has that number really increased.”
Prior to and between council terms, most of Patterson’s career was in the hospitality industry. She has owned and managed several area businesses and restaurants, including the Pacific Brimm Cafe and Catering and the French Creek House Restaurant.
Across the table from Patterson sits Coun. Wilson, who first developed an interest in politics from an early age where frequent political discussions were held amongst family and friends.
“Perhaps this was the forerunner to working for the municipality, but it was not my plan,” said Wilson.
As a young woman, she was aware of the societal bias toward get married, raising a family and being a homemaker.
“The gender basis that women faced also impacted my choice of work. I always felt that there was a different path intended for me, but I chose what was once considered the ‘glamorous’ option of travel in working for an airline,”she said, adding that she worked for Air Canada as a flight attendant for 32 years.
“In retrospect, I appreciate the invaluable perspective I gained from experiencing the uniqueness of different cultures and architecture from my work travels.”
Wilson said when she became a member of council, it was not what she had initially envisioned.
There was a steep learning curve, and it took almost two years to become comfortable with the demands and nuances of the role.
“That being said, being a councillor is rewarding and fulfilling – knowing that you can make a difference for the betterment of your city and residents… I encourage all women to own your power and step forward and run for office.”