10 Qs with Shannan Saunders
1. HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE INDUSTRY?
4. SHARE A HOT TOPIC OR TREND IN YOUR FIELD!
Almost by accident. I was working as a paramedic and went back to school to take a public policy degree to move up in the organization. One day I saw a presentation from the leaders of a new professional certificate (it wasn't even a degree back then) who were offering the Intro to Emergency Management course as an elective. I thought it would be an easy course, it wasn't but I also fell in love. I went on immediately to get my Masters in Disaster and Emergency Management, something I had not even considered when I started school.
This next year or two are going to really test the theory that organizations who plan survive, it's going to be interesting to see who survives in the post-COVID world. Coming out of COVID, there's a lot of opportunity to build through recovery. Organizations that are looking at a truly comprehensive resilience program are going to recover stronger and are more likely to succeed. We see a number of definitions of resilience, all true to an extent.
2. WHAT PROJECT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
5. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE GETTING THEIR START IN THE FIELD?
Every opportunity leads to the next one. In the beginning, no job is too small. In the early days mentorship is important, finding official and unofficial mentors will help you grow, and give you a place to vent when you need to. But more importantly is to find sponsorship. Find those people who will actively include you in their professional networks and give you the visibility to succeed in the next steps of your career.
6. HAVE YOU READ A RECENT ARTICLE OR BOOK THAT INSPIRED YOU?
We recently read The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle at our executive leadership book club. It really resonated with me. A lot of the work, and most of the frustration, in emergency management is engaging staff at all levels in planning and preparedness activities. Essentially we are trying to change the culture of the organization. A positive culture fosters teams that get things done - something every emergency manager needs. The Culture Code provides some real advice for creating emergency management teams and committees that are effective in coming together to respond in emergencies.
7. HOW DO YOU STAY ENGAGED WITH YOUR COMMUNITY?
I'm currently sitting on the Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) Commission through the International Association of Emergency Management (IAEM). Essentially, I'm part of the team that board certifies emergency managers. The role is challenging but very rewarding. I help set the direction of emergency management around the world and support and mentor numerous candidates through the process. It's a fun way to contributed and engage with the emergency management community.
Outside of work, I love the arts and supporting artists. I'm probably the least artistic person you'll ever meet and I'm in awe of the work, dedication, and commitment it takes to produce beauty that thrives around us. Over the past two years, I've had some great discussions with artists and often I hear, "I'm just an artist," as part of the discussion around responding to and recovering from COVID. Art is a huge driver of disaster recovery, personally and as a community. We express ourselves through art in all its forms and it's an important part of community and organizational resiliency. There's no such thing as, "I'm just...." Despite my lack of talent, I support the arts in every way I can.
3. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE A ROADBLOCK FOR WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY?
Despite a near 50/50 split in gender graduating from EM programs, gender equity, especially pay equity, is still a very real problem in emergency management. Women are generally discouraged from applying for roles when they don't meet 100% of the qualifications where men get offers when they meet only 60% of the requirements (Hannon, 2014). Salaries are not always tied to qualifications either - meaning even when women meet 100% of their qualifications (or more), they're still generally offered less base salary. Salary range transparency, training in negotiation skills, and sponsorship/mentorship opportunities for women need to be in the best practices of all employers. As women, it's on all of us to lift other women as we rise - we need to be excellent sponsors for other women in emergency management as well as good coaches. It is going to be interesting to see what happens when more and more states move to salary transparency laws (and other countries for that matter). In Ontario, public service employees (very broadly defined by sectors that receive public funding for staff) salaries are reported on a "sunshine list". It was much easier for me to see how my salary related to those in positions in similar or same roles in both my organization but others. It's an extreme example because it provides an exact salary as reported on tax forms, but the outcome was a closer parity between staff in related jobs. Companies worked harder to identify key components of a job title and then what qualifications/qualities were worth more or less salary. Someone with a relevant masters would be paid more than someone with a bachelor's degree. Posting a salary range transparently shows that an organization is committed to equity.
8. WHAT’S A FUN FACT ABOUT YOU THAT PEOPLE MIGHT NOT KNOW?
I used to be a casino dealer. As someone with dyslexia and dyscalculia, I sometimes struggle with completing calculations under time pressure, even simple addition. As a dealer, there were times where thousands of dollars were at stake and I had to process quickly. Imaging having trouble with math and have to multiply a 35 times table, or worse a 17 times table! It really forced me to develop core skills. I was a pretty good dealer and even worked in Vegas for a day!
9. ANY TIPS FOR WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
Force it. Set boundaries and stick with them. We all work in arenas that require some level of "on call". You just never know when a storm is going to take out the power or a water main is going to break and cause a flood. But it's a trade off too, if you work all day Saturday then negotiate Monday off. And when it's not an emergency, go home on time, take weekends, and all of your paid time off.
10. SHARE YOUR BEST CAREER ADVICE.
Emergency management is a big field. Don't be afraid to try new things until you find the right fit. And never stop learning. As we move towards more resilience in organizations and communities, there's a lot more to learn. Data analytics, project management, technology, and leadership courses are super helpful throughout the career.