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City of Salmon Arm’s CAO speaks on International Women’s Day of her path to top job

SAFE Society celebrates women with 2023 theme of ‘Embracing equity’

When Erin Jackson, chief administrative officer for the City of Salmon Arm, was asked to speak at the SAFE Society’s annual celebration of International Women’s Day, she hesitated briefly.

The theme for the day in 2023 was ‘Embrace equity.’ Jackson thought she might not be the best person to represent the struggle that women face, as she may not have experienced the same challenges that many women have had in achieving workplace success. After considering the situation, however, she realized she had downplayed both the struggle and the achievement.

Jackson spoke first of the findings of Tara Sophia Mohr, author of Playing Big: Find Your Mission, Your Voice, Your Message. Data showed that men apply for a job when they meet 60 per cent of the qualifications but women apply when they meet 100 per cent of them.

Mohr initially thought it was because women have less confidence than men. However, after reviewing the data, the author concluded three things.

One, bias is alive and well in the workplace and, in many cases, women do need to meet more of the criteria than men to be considered for a job. Two, girls receive lots of positive reinforcement for following the rules. And three, women may be more likely to believe that hiring decisions are based on meritocracy, education and skills, and not as much on networking and self-advocacy.

Jackson told her story, which was met with enthusiastic applause.

“As a young girl, I never knew there was any inequity between men and women. I was told by my mom so many times during my early years that I could do anything I put my mind to and I believed it. That literally resulted in me looking at the world and all the many opportunities I believed I had, in such a positive light.

“Fast forward to being a teenager and making some questionable life choices. Pregnant at 16 and scared to death. How could I be a mother and follow my dreams? 

“Well there is a lot of messy middle to this story, and I won’t go into those details. I continued to receive the staunch support of my mother and I was able to graduate almost on time, and go quite promptly to university. I only made it through those few years with a tremendous amount of coffee, a very very easygoing baby, and lots of friends and family that supported me.

“While I wish I could say I finished my degree in four years, that wasn’t the case. I got married, had another child five years after the first, and worked at minimum wage jobs, studied a course at a time, and was exhausted trying to juggle everything.

“I didn’t feel like I had met my potential for most of my twenties. When I was 30, I got my job at the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction and literally danced in the street. At that point my marriage wasn’t healthy and I knew that no matter what happened, with this job I could support myself and my children.

“I worked with a team of extremely strong women and with a boss who gave me so many opportunities to spread my wings. He mentored me and absolutely brought out the best in me. When I got the job at the city six years into my career with the ministry, Harry was one of my biggest champions.

“Working at the city has been a dream for me. It is the culmination of everything I had ever hoped for. The former CAO encouraged me to finish my degree and told me that I, too, could be a chief administrative officer. That was beyond anything I had ever hoped for myself. The council has been so supportive and there are three very strong women on that council as you well know.

“Everything I have done to this point feels like a dress rehearsal, and even when things are hard I know that I work with an amazing team in a community full of people that can do so much together.

“While I’ve always believed that anything worth having is worth working hard for, I now believe that women should not have to work harder than men to get it. There is plenty of room at the table for all of us.

“My final thoughts for you this evening are: get out there, break the rules, market yourself and embrace equity,” she said to loud applause.

Gina Johnny with the Adams Lake Band provided the land acknowledgement for the evening at the Anvil Coffee Collective in Salmon Arm.

The serious yet uplifting format included an opportunity for people to pledge what they will do this year to embrace equity. Short optional quizzes were distributed on women’s history in Canada and the world.

The SAFE Society has been posting interviews with inspiring women on its Facebook page leading up to International Women’s Day.

Here is Erin Jackson’s:

And here is Gina Johnny’s:

Read more: International Women’s Day prompts Shuswap business women to pledge to break bias

Read more: Full house in Salmon Arm celebrates International Women’s Day
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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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