Written by Noemi Ortiz.
Like many WCA members who are solopreneurs, Jennifer Perkins is continually seeking to improve her skills in the absence of having team partners and collaborators. As VP of Programming for WCA and the mastermind behind WCA’s monthly luncheons, she tries to focus on topics that will be interesting to members and will help them meet their professional development goals. “We learned through member surveys what’s important to members, so I use that as my guide, “ shares Perkins, “For many if not most topics, collaboration between speakers is helpful in that it provides different perspectives for attendees.”
Perkins is principal of Cogent Public Affairs and has more than two decades of experience in the public affairs realm in Texas, California and Missouri. Her favorite and most challenging aspects of the job are actually the same: the constant necessity of not only learning but mastering new information: “I have some overlap among my clients’ areas of interest, but enough diversity that I must be constantly alert for new developments, much like PR folks,” notes Perkins, “That part of it feeds my near-constant need for learning. I take on clients whose purpose I believe in and support, like water recycling and clean energy, so in that regard I feel like it benefits our society because we have to take care of the only Earth we have. And who doesn’t want to have ample water supplies and clean, efficient, cost-effective energy? I didn’t start out to be a do-gooder on energy, but things evolved that way. And I like it.”
Much like when she was in graduate business school, as a woman Perkins tends to be in the minority in public affairs, especially on the lobbying side of things. The issues she has addressed in recent years, such as roads and infrastructure, criminal justice, water recycling, wind energy storage and demand generation, are not areas in which many women work the issues. “Maybe it harkens back to women not being equally represented in STEM courses,” says Perkins, “I like the technical and avoid social issues for the most part because these issues can be solved and addressed rationally. But as in many male-dominated industries, women are not always regarded as equals and can easily find themselves marginalized, or ridiculed, if they don’t mind their p’s and q’s. Relationship development takes many forms, and that’s how all of us – PR, public affairs, media, lobbying – convey information in a way that the recipient trusts us. So that has to be done purposefully, intentionally, ethically, and carefully.”
Fortunately, Perkins finds people incredibly interesting, so the long hours during the legislative session are rewarding as she inevitably learns something from the people she spends time with: “I think it may be the perfect job for me: part educator, part marketer, part activist. Unless and until I run away to teach scuba in the tropics.”