The Lighter Side: Q&A with St. Louis Press Club President Joan Berkman
The Jewish Light recently spoke with Joan Berkman, president of the St. Louis Press Club and president of Face Watchers Public Relations, as part of The Lighter Side series – short interviews with interesting people from the Jewish community of St. Louis. Berkman, who grew up in St. Louis and graduated from Clayton High School — “I was the captain of the cheerleaders,” she laughed — has spent her career working in public relations and as a lobbyist in Washington, DC and Jefferson City.
Briefly describe your role as president of the press club.
I work alongside our board of incredibly talented journalists to help protect the future quality of local media. Our mission is to raise awareness and fund student journalism scholarships and freelance journalists to bring marginalized stories to light in our region.
When you retired from AT&T, former UMSL Chancellor Blanche Touhill gave you some tips for retiring in style. You have a fairly busy schedule. Is this the retirement lifestyle for you?
I treasured Blanche’s mentorship. She knew how much I loved working and immediately after I left AT&T she asked me if I would come work for her in college. But I really needed to breathe. Three months later, I realized that retirement wasn’t for me and started my PR, marketing and special events business, which continues to energize me and engage me in the community.
How did your career in corporate communications prepare you for your new venture writing a column on business ethics for “Town and Style?”
I received invaluable training at all levels of my management career. Part of this work was as a lobbyist, which provided me with many opportunities to work with a diversity of personalities, which added even more depth and insight to my work as a columnist.
Your mother, Eleanor, was a community volunteer. Has his work influenced your own volunteering?
Everything I learned about volunteer work, I learned from my mother. She had so much heart, energy, talent and drive – I still hope to be like her one day.
When you were hired by Southwestern Bell in the early 1970s, the company called your parents to get permission to hire you because the idea of a female director was a new concept. Is there still work to be done to accept women in the C-suite?
Of course, not only the acceptance of women but also with regard to the diversity within the C-Suite. However, I think there has been progress and at least from my experience at AT&T, I had the privilege of working for the first African American men and women and two other women presidents in my career , which I think speaks well of the company.
What kinds of activities have you been involved in to try to keep your sanity during the pandemic?
If there is a silver lining to this interlude, it has provided me with a rare opportunity to spend more time on a deeper level with my family, friends, and colleagues to laugh and learn so much more. Like everyone else, I’ve hiked and hiked nearly every possible trail in the neighborhood and dark chocolate has been a constant companion.