Women PR Leaders Share Their Wisdom

Every March, our country takes time to honor the incredible contributions of women from the past and present as part of Women’s History Month.

This year, I’m excited to share wisdom from some of the influential women communicators in our region.

I asked leaders connected to PRSA Richmond and the Richmond PR Foundation to share their insights for achieving a fulfilling career and what tips they have for the next generation of women leaders. Their advice, which is compiled below, inspires, educates and uplifts – and is proof that you have a community rooting for your success.

I’m thankful for these women – and so many more – for helping foster a region where the public relations industry is thriving. This month and beyond, we celebrate you.

Happy Women’s History Month!

– Cameron McPherson, APR

Cameron McPherson, APR is president of the Richmond PR Foundation, the philanthropic arm of PRSA Richmond. Donations to the Foundation are tax-deductible and support the Foundation’s four annual scholarships to area college students, as well as APR certification costs.

Diana Miller, APR, 2022 PRSA Richmond President

One of the things I wish I would have known at the beginning of my career is that there is no straight path. You have to be open to unexpected opportunities, take chances and be open minded. Something else that is extremely valuable is developing a network of mentors – not one mentor, but several. In various industries, across different levels of expertise, men and women. Diverse expertise can provide incredibly thoughtful input and guidance for your own path. Last but not least, trust your gut – about opportunities, about people, learn to trust yourself. Be confident in your skills and abilities, speak up and don’t be intimidated in complex situations. You are at the table for a reason!

Felicia Farrar McLemore, APR, 2008 PRSA Richmond President

  • Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.
  • Ask for help. It’s a sign of strength.
  • Be accountable. Integrity matters in the workplace and beyond.
  • Learn from feedback. It helps you to grow.
  • Stay positive. Negativity is exhausting.
  • Step outside of your comfort zone. You may find a new passion.
  • Be a mentor and get a mentor. Mentoring is rewarding for everyone.

Three pieces of advice a mentor gave me – 1) less is more – put in the right effort, not necessarily more effort; 2) always make time for your health, wellbeing, and resilience; and 3) remember, just because someone is more senior or more confident – or male – doesn’t mean they are right. And, finally as a young woman, I wish I’d embraced what Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh said, “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Believe in yourself … always.

Natalie Smith, APR, 2001 PRSA Richmond President and 2021 Excellence in Public Relations Award Recipient

Get to know yourself really well so you understand the unique talents you bring to the table and the type of work environment in which you are likely to thrive. Pursue your interests – in person, yes, but in your profession, too. Always look for opportunities to learn more and do more. You’d be surprised at how often curiosity leads to the perfect opportunity to grow your career or pivot to a profession that you’re passionate about. The more passion you bring to your career, the more successful and fulfilling it will be.

I am so impressed with the women I see in the workplace who are becoming our next leaders. They are smart, energetic and savvy – and I believe they will drive the change that will lead to more equity and more humanity in the workplace. They likely don’t need my advice. I would simply remind them to reach out to other professionals they respect – both women and men, at any level – to explore what’s next in their profession, in the workplace and in the world in general. Having a professional cohort that you can turn to when you need advice or want to explore an idea is invaluable. And to steal a line from Tim McGraw, when you get where you’re going, don’t stop. Turn back around and help the next one in line. Don’t ever underestimate the impact that a few minutes of time can mean to others who are growing their careers.

Jenny Pedraza, APR 2014 PRSA Richmond President and Chapter Website Administrator

No career is a linear path, and there isn’t just one way to be successful. You will reinvent yourself many times throughout your career, and your interests and skills will grow and adapt as you do. Bring your whole, authentic self to work each day, and seek out opportunities, projects and colleagues that bring out the best in you and make you feel proud of the work you’re doing.

Hannah Robinson, 2021 PRSA Richmond Rising Star and Board Member

At 25, I’m still in the messy process of cultivating (what I hope to be) a successful and fulfilling career. And although I have a long way to go, I think the most important thing for me is to define the terms success and fulfillment. Those two words can mean wildly different things based on who you speak to. And for me, they have less to do with the accolades and big hits. It’s about how my work impacts those around me, and how I feel when the day is done. No matter what I accomplish in this life whether professionally or personally, I’m always careful to focus on how I show up for those around me. I’m constantly asking myself: Am I holding space for diverse voices and experiences? Am I prioritizing learning over ego? Am I asking questions? And, most importantly, am I making the younger (past) and older (future) versions of myself proud? If the answer is yes, then I’ve done my job and I’ve done it well.

I would tell the next generation of women leaders to find strength in one another. From the start, we are taught to see other women as competition – that there isn’t enough (insert anything) to go around. That we can only find success at the expense of other women. And in my experience, that is the furthest thing from the truth. Looking back on my life, it was the women who held me together at my weakest. It was the grandmothers, sisters, coworkers and bosses that taught me the most about life and myself. Women are deeply multifaceted and dynamic and I’m a firm believer that empowered women empower women.

There hasn’t been anything as meaningful or life-changing for me as being in community with other women. I’d tell the next generation to seek out mentorship opportunities with women they feel aligned with. Invest in other women – hold space for them and see how quickly their life changes for the better.

Marian G. Mahon, 1975-76 Richmond Public Relations Association President

Whatever field you’re in – really like that field and learn all there is to learn. Whatever you’re doing, know it inside and out. Take advantage of every opportunity for education. Try new things.

Beth Hardy, APR, 2005 PRSA Richmond President and 2018 Excellence in Public Relations Award Recipient

My advice for achieving a successful and fulfilling career is to set specific goals and work towards them, with a plan. Think ahead about what you want to be doing and where you want to be in five years, and map out how to get there. My plan included making contacts in the industry. The biggest impact on my career, hands down, has been my involvement in PRSA. The networking is invaluable to me. I sought out a leadership position in the organization; that exposed me to other people and contacts, and enhanced my work opportunities.

Fulfillment for me was not only meeting and exceeding my professional goals, but also being happy in my work. It is important to find the things that feed your soul and include them, either in your work or as a hobby. For me, that included having a job that would allow me to be home for my kids when they were young and it led to me leaving the corporate world and starting my own consultancy. I was pragmatic though; I waited until we were in a financial position that allowed me to pursue my own business without the added stress of needing a second income to pay the bills. It all worked out.

Now is a very exciting time for women in the workplace. I believe women are strong leaders and more active champions of diversity, equity, and inclusion because of our own history and achievements in the workplace. Specific tips I would give are to work hard, be honest, assert yourself, and don’t take any crap from anyone. The older I get, the less I care about what people think of me as long as I’m living my truth. Be authentic. Be kind. And have fun!

Nina Sims, Former PRSA Richmond Board Member

I believe the community experiences outside of my professional roles have strengthened my career. Expand your perspective by listening to leaders from a range of industries. Make your work relevant in terms of technology and content. And remain open to lifelong learning – especially in communications roles where there’s something new with every sunrise it seems! I’ve had the incredible opportunity to mentor many young communicators. I share with them to find their passions and build a career there! It makes your work more meaningful. It also gives you inspiration and energy to pour the very best of you into everyday tasks and big projects.

Kelsey Leavey, Former PRSA Richmond Board Member

I think that simply treating people with respect and helping others have what they need to succeed are critical to achieving career success/a fulfilling career. Sure, there are people who go far in their careers without doing either of those things, but at the end of the day, are you going to be happy/fulfilled if you got to the top by putting down others?

In my own career, I’ve had the good fortune of working with some of the nicest (and smartest) people, and not only am I where I am today because of how kind they were to me, but they’re also thriving in their own careers because of how they treated me and others. As someone who has now moved into a more senior position, I know that I am most fulfilled in my career when I am helping my colleagues succeed and do their best work.

My advice to the next generation of women leaders is to approach every interaction you have in the workplace with confidence and really believe in yourself. You’ve gotten to where you are today because of your abilities, knowledge and talents; and you’ll go far if you can remind yourself and others of that. We’re all out there kind of faking it until we make it (not just women), but as communications and public relations professionals, there is a lot of power in confidently communicating your ideas and perspectives.

Lindsay O’Bar, APR, 2021 PRSA Richmond President

Seize the opportunities that come your way. If something sounds interesting or exciting – even if it’s a stretch for you – go for it. Find a mentor, do your research and you’ll find a way. You’re capable of so much more than you realize.

See the women you’re working alongside as your collaborators, not your competitors. Do what you can to support them and accept their support when it’s offered and needed. We’re all in this together and we can do so much more when we’re working together.

Shana Meganck, Ph.D., PRSA Richmond member

My dad always told me that when you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t feel like work. I think this important to think about when you’re choosing a career. It is hard to find something that you truly love every single day, but if you can discover something that you are passionate about and find a way to incorporate that into your career then that is a strong foundation for not only a fulfilling career, but a fulfilling life. It might just be one client, one project, a pro bono job, volunteer work you do on the side, or even the lifestyle your job affords you. Regardless, figure it out and use that as your starting place.

Susan Pollard, APR, Fellow PRSA and Richmond PR Foundation Board Member

Have a plan, but don’t be afraid and so focused on following it that you miss out.  I can name numerous instances where I had a career plan, but through a series of unexpected events I was faced with a decision to stay on course or choose a new direction. Happenstance has played a tremendous role in my career, this is just one of many examples. Often I was terrified to take that unexpected leap for a new opportunity that presented itself seemingly out of nowhere, so I jumped scared. As a result, my career path has been filled with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, along with incredible lifelong friendships. My career path has been less conventional by other standards, but I think Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken is best to describe it.  I, similar to Frost, took the road less traveled and it really has made all the difference in my life.  Find your road that will make the difference for you and don’t be afraid to take it, even if it appears by happenstance.

Here are three tips:

  • Know What You Don’t Know. If there are things you don’t know in your job, learn them.  Find the people who do know and learn from the experts.
  • Be Respectful When Someone Disagrees. Just because someone disagrees with your approach, be respectful.  Become inquisitive and ask them to point out aspects that they don’t like and explain why.  Also, ask for alternative approaches because you just may learn something new.
  • Be the Best Team Player Ever. Share your successes with anyone who contributed. Share the credit, celebrate the team, and recognize even the smallest of contributions to the success. The team will benefit.

Saher Randhawa, PRSA Richmond DEI Committee Member

My advice for achieving a successful and fulfilling career is to take risks, play to your strengths, don’t miss opportunities and practice resilience. It takes time to build a long-lasting career, and the people you meet along the way can become some of your greatest friends and professional connections. Don’t worry about what you can’t do, concentrate on what you can do, and always keep learning and growing along the way. Expanding your viewpoint and making moves towards the next step in your career will only help you succeed and motivate you to be a better professional. The tips I would give to the next generation of women leaders is to never compare yourself to others, offer support not criticism to those around you, be of service beyond just your daily job, and at the end of the day ensure you are taking care of yourself. If your battery is depleted, then you won’t be able to give 100% back to your job, your colleagues, employees, organizations, etc. Be patient in your growth and take the time to learn from every role and person along the way. Every job is a stepping stone that has built you up to where you’re at, so be proud of it all and remember to draw from those experiences in the future.

Kemi O. Okeowo, Richmond PR Foundation Board Member

To achieve a successful and fulfilling career I would advise having a plan but also remaining flexible. I always suggest having a firm idea of what you want to achieve, but know that the “how” you achieve it may look different from your plan.

Remember that your value and your worth is not determined by a job or a title.

Jill Lawrence Vaughan, APR, 2007 PRSA Richmond President and Richmond PR Foundation Board Member

Always have a growth mindset! I recently turned 50 and I still get excited to learn new strategies, tactics and technologies in the PR arena, and I have been in the profession since 1994. I still attend PRSA Richmond meetings. Getting my APR as soon as I was eligible helped me soar in my career at a young age. It’s important to feel that “fire in the belly” when working on a PR project. If that’s missing, it may be time for a change. My dad always told me, “if you love your job, it will never feel like work.” That is PR to me.

I think women are natural PR leaders, especially if we lead with a servant heart. Whether helping our organizations, a client, or a nonprofit with no compensation, success happens when we want to do good and make a difference in the world. I also encourage women to mentor younger females in the profession to set them up for success. There are so many rockstar women in PRSA Richmond that I can name who did that for me.

Taya M. Jarman, APR, 2022 PRSA Richmond President-Elect

Set clear goals. Always ask yourself, what’s next? Set out to become the Swiss army knife of your industry. In PR, that would mean being strong in media relations, strategy, evaluation, campaigns, etc. Find what pieces you are missing then take classes or find experiences (serving on nonprofit boards or volunteering) to strengthen your weakness. Imagine yourself in the spaces and tables where you want to sit. After strengthening your Swiss army knife skills, you will have enough experiences and education to propel you forward to a successful career.

For the next generation of women leaders, as you are climbing the ladder to leadership, don’t forget the relationship part of PR. Build personal and professional relationships in the industry. Your professional relationships will share resources and help advocate for you when you’re not in the room. Your personal relationships will encourage and support you when your back is against the wall. Stay connected with your industry by joining and volunteering on committees and with nonprofits. This will expand your network and practice communications in different industries.

Also, when you reach “the top” don’t forget to share your knowledge and pull others up.