Charmayne Carlson

Charmayne Carlson

STORY AND VIDEO: Women who have proven that ‘Yes they can’

International Women’s Day on March 8 celebrates female achievements and rallies for gender equality in all corners of the Earth

International Women’s Day on March 8 celebrates female achievements and rallies for gender equality in all corners of the Earth, yet when weighing the balance in Prince Rupert the scale still tips.

There are signs of change, however. A year ago, the Women’s Leadership Network was launched to bring gender parity to the resource-focused city. The North Coast Women in Business are continuing to meet monthly to provide space to connect and share experiences.

When looking at some leading businesses in the city, the executive and management teams are predominately male-centred. The Port of Prince Rupert has five men on the executive team and one woman, the corporate secretary and executive assistant.

DP World, the international company that runs the Fairview Terminal operations, has 23 on its management team and only four are women. Ridley Terminals Inc. has an all-male executive team.

But there are also some companies where the scale has tipped in the other direction.

At the Northern Savings Credit Union, there are 14 members on the management team and 11 are women, while the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce executive is made up of three women and two men.

Perfectly in balance, Northern Health’s executive team has 12 and six are women including the president and chief operating officer.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, the Northern View met with four female trailblazers who have excelled in their careers and whose ambitions have benefitted the communities they serve.

Charmayne Carlson

Owner, Dolly’s Fish Market

She spent years as a cook, and was looking to move up as a chef. But when she was denied the position, she realized she was tired of working for someone else.

“If you put your whole heart into something you might as well own it,” Charmayne Carlson said.

She purchased her sister’s business in Smithers and became a restaurant seafood retailer. Traversing the ins and outs of the business, she networked, grew, and set her sights on Prince Rupert.

In 2004, when she purchased Dolly’s Fish Market, which was making $320,000 at the time — 13 years later she said the business is nearly hitting $3-million a year. The once-small diner now has five businesses under one roof including the restaurant, retail, custom processing and a depot for St. Jean’s Cannery. She’s looking to expand those even more.

To stay on the cutting edge of her business, she has introduced QR codes to the product, so that clients as far as China can scan the barcode on the bag and learn exactly who caught the seafood and where.

The business is her life. She dedicates herself to its success and for the past 14 years she has been training her daughter to learn the business as well.

Being a woman in a demographically male-centred business has thrown a few hurdles Carlson’s way but she learned in the first two years how to overcome it.

“I got a backbone real fast and now when I’m training my daughter I tell her the same thing, ‘you need a backbone, you have to be very assertive, you have to gain respect’,” she said.

Running a business isn’t for the faint of heart. Carlson works every day, managing a staff of 25-45, depending on the season and she pours herself into her business wants to share her knowledge with others in the community. Carlson is one of two women who have joined the Business Advisory Committee with the City of Prince Rupert.

“I’m constantly looking for new businesses to develop and grow in the community,” she said.

Janine Toneff

President, Coast Isle Engineering

She examines bridges, dams and buildings as a structural engineer. Her preferred type of work is anything that gets her out of the office. When she was at a larger company in Vancouver, she learned to dive to do inspections on piers and docks.

“For me that was more fun,” Janine Toneff said.

In school, she had always preferred maths and sciences to writing, so she took applied science at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and then her masters at the University of British Columbia specializing in structural engineering.

Twenty years ago, she made the move to Prince Rupert with her husband. With few engineers in the area, she always has more work than she can handle. In the first few years, she worked on the pulp mill before it closed.

“It was really fascinating. It was an old structure and there were lots of things that needed repairs but with a limited budget. I had to figure out the most effective way to use the money,” she said.

By the time the mill closed, she’d made a name for herself, and decided to become her own consultant.

“I was used to being on my own, and I had enough work,” Toneff said.

Much of her business involves repairing old structures, such as the Second Avenue bridge. Calm, confident and enthusiastic about her projects, she said that she has never felt intimidated on a job site.

She’s run her business for 18 years, and in a city full of old structures needing the keen eye of an engineer, Toneff is going to be busy for many more to come.

Jacquie Ridley

Chief operating officer, TRICORP

When she first started working for TRICORP, she was one of five women in an office with 13 men. That was 18 years ago, now there are four men in the office with 11 women.

“TRICORP has really evolved,” Jacquie Ridley said. “The leadership has always been really open to that.”

Ridley started as a receptionist, then continued to evolve herself — to loan management, security documentation and finance.

Tribal Resources Investment Corporation (TRICORP) covers territory from Atlin, B.C. to Burns Lake and as far south as Hartley Bay. The corporation handles business development and Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training with more than 20 indigenous communities and 13 urban centres.

The favourite part of her job is working with great people from different nations. She likes helping individuals and communities with training opportunities.

Her role, as chief operating officer, is to manage the programs and the staff, and she answers to the CEO and the board of directors. After climbing her way up to the top, Ridley stresses that it’s important to remember where you’ve come from.

“You know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the pile and working your way up so you have to remember that about others,” she said.

This month, she’s taking the provincial instructor diploma — not to be an instructor but to be more informed on how curriculum is built.

“It’s not always my chief operating officer hat that I’m trying to improve on. If you’re working with programs you have to be more versatile and still be able to learn,” she said, adding that you’re never done learning.

Fay Booker

Interim CEO, Northern Savings Credit Union

When she entered the business world after graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, she trailblazed her way through, proving that women can do the same work as men.

“When I went into commercial lending at CIBC, I was the first female commercial lender for CIBC in Hamilton. One of the guys came up to me and said, ‘Credit is a man’s world.’ Guess who the only one was who made their targets,” Fay Booker said with a smile.

She grew up on a farm in southern Ontario with five other children, and her father made them all pitch in equally to help with the chores, there was no gender divide. When she moved to Toronto, she overcame gender barriers by proving herself in her work.

“There’s a certain assertiveness that you have to adopt because you’re fighting uphill all the time,” Booker said.

But she adds that achieving goals has nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with capability, self-initiation and motivation — barreling ahead in spite of the storm.

For many years, Booker was a single mother raising two children. They learned to be more independent, yet she would be sure to make herself available when they needed her.

In 2000, she moved out west to work on special projects for CIBC in Vancouver and she’s been working in the credit union system since.

She worked as a consultant for the Northern Savings Credit Union, and then last October, she was called to come to Prince Rupert to act as the interim CEO after the former CEO ended his short tenure.

Although her position is temporary, Booker is sharing her expertise in Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii and Terrace — staying informed of emerging trends and recently introducing financing for tiny homes.

“I’ve got a daughter and a son, and I have three step-daughters, so part of it is also showing to the younger generation that you can do it. We have to stay away from ‘you can’t’,” she said.

International Women’s Day

In Prince Rupert, the Women’s Leadership Network is screening “The Eagle Huntress” — a film about the first female eagle hunter in Mongolia.

The film will be shown at the Port Interpretive Centre on March 8, with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. for anyone who wants to attend. The free event is being sponsored by the Port of Prince Rupert and Quickload.

North Coast Women in Business is also hosting two lunches this week with a political focus. The first lunch was on Monday, with Liberal candidate Herb Pond and the second lunch is this Friday at the Prestige Prince Rupert Hotel at noon with incumbent NDP candidate Jennifer Rice.

The luncheons with the politicians will give women the chance to voice their concerns for their community for the upcoming provincial election.


Heart of our City