Women Making Waves – Paula Copeland

Vice President, Engagement & Sustainability – Port Saint John

With nearly two and a half decades in the port industry and nearly a decade in tourism, Paula thrives on innovation and collaboration which result in new opportunities and approaches to challenges. 

Elevating the brand of Port Saint John in the community and region over the past 10 years has been a team effort that Paula is proud to have been a part of and now she’s ready to push that brand out even more strongly nationally and internationally as we work closely with industry partners to advance our position in Canada’s supply chain.  

Paula is a mother of two grown children and is passionate about the Bay of Fundy coastline and enjoys hiking its many trails with her husband and their newly adopted dogs. Paula is a dual citizen and is glad to see pandemic travel restrictions eased so she can once again visit her other homeland of Scotland. 

1. How did you end up working in or alongside the maritime industry? Please tell us the story of how you got to your current role. 

After university when I began working full-time, my first roles were in tourism and through that I had connections with Port Saint John, and in particular activities in the cruise sector. In the late 1990s I made the leap to join the Port team as Marketing Assistant. The Port offered many opportunities for professional development which included both port industry conferences and certifications and additional post-secondary education. Over the years my role evolved, and I switched into the CEO’s office after about 6 years where both public relations and governance became responsibilities.  By about 2013 and through further evolution, and as a member of the senior leadership team, I began to lead the marketing and communication function and started to also strengthen our corporate focus on social responsibility, a business practice that is now embedded at Port Saint John. 

2. What education have you taken a) pre-working in or alongside the maritime industry and b) since joining the maritime industry? 

I am a self-professed ‘education junkie’.   

Prior to joining the maritime industry, I took a travel tourism program from a college in Ontario (Westervelt), a Bachelor of Arts (Honours History) from UNB, and a Master of Arts (History) from the University of Waterloo.  I am also a certified tour guide and was on the accreditation committee to establish national standards for this role in Canada. 

After joining the maritime industry, and with the support of Port Saint John, I have taken a graduate diploma in Public Relations Management (Royal Roads University), a graduate diploma in Social Responsibility & sustainability (University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto), a professional designation (Professional Port Manager©) from American Association of Port Authorities, and a graduate diploma in Port Management (Lloyds Maritime Academy).  In addition to these I have completed two executive leadership programs with Leadership Management International (LMI). 

3. What is the most rewarding thing about working in or alongside this industry? 

The diversity of work and the people are by far the best parts of this industry.  I thrive in an environment where adapting to change is the norm.  To paraphrase Greek philosopher Heraclitus, you cannot step into the same river twice, and that’s a philosophy which resonates with me. Change is constant and innovation is how you grow and advance as an individual and an organization.  I enjoy meeting and working with a broad variety of companies, community organizations, and people, and I love connecting opportunities between our maritime industry and our community. 

4. Did/do you have any female role models in the industry? If so, please tell us about that experience and tips on how to approach someone for mentorship.  

Since I have been in the industry a long time, my industry-based mentors have primarily been male, although I have learned from females in our industry as I worked alongside them or observed their interactions.   Recently, I also had the opportunity to have a recognized female business leader as a mentor as part of leadership training through LMI. 

Female mentors in maritime were hard to come by in my early years.  In the beginning I would attend a port industry conference and be one of 2-3 women in the audience.  Today when I attend a conference there are more women in the audience, women on and leading industry working committees, and a few who are sought after speakers at industry events.   However, there is still much room to grow female involvement in this sector at all levels. 

 5. What is your advice for someone looking to get into this industry in our region? Any important events or associations to be following? 

My advice is to jump in with both feet. This is a dynamic and exciting industry to work in whether you work for a port authority, a terminal operator, on the water with a port service provider, at sea on ocean going vessels, or on land fulfilling vital and varied labour roles on the dock.   The path you take to get into the industry can come from many directions, the best way to find out how you might fit is to reach out and have a conversation with anyone working in this industry. The opportunities are endless.