Susan Sperling, 2019 Co-Winner of the Morley Gunderson Prize

November 27, 2019 by CIRHR Communications

The CIRHR is delighted to announce that Sperling is one of the 2019 winners of the Morley Gunderson Prize

The purpose of the Morley Gunderson Prize is to recognize and honour current students or graduates who combine outstanding professional achievement with significant service to the Centre. The prize was established as a tribute to Morley Gunderson’s ten years as Director of the Centre for Industrial Relations and is modelled after Morley’s own career, which exhibits outstanding accomplishments as a scholar and researcher in industrial relations, simultaneous with great contributions to the activities and goals of the Centre. 

Susan Sperling was selected as one of this year’s winners in recognition of her service this past year in helping the Centre successfully undertake a number of important CIRHR related events, in particular organizing a tour of TTC facilities for a delegation of Korean IR officials.

The award will be presented on December 2nd at the Morley Gunderson Lecture in Industrial Relations and Labour Economics, co-sponsored by the Centre, Department of Economics and Woodsworth College. 

Do you know a CIRHR grad whose professional success is matched by their support of the Centre? Nominations for the 2020 prize may be submitted by current students, graduates, faculty and staff at any time to the CIRHR Director. 

In her own words:

In a few words, could you tell us about your current role?  

My current role is that of Director of Communications at Northland Power, a global developer, owner and operator of renewable energy projects and infrastructure. In this role, I am responsible for setting the strategic communications direction for the company, including public relations, design, brand, media relations, issues management and employee communications. As a member of the Management Committee, I am also working on the company’s Diversity & Inclusion initiative, as well as on our ESG path (environment, sustainability, governance).

Is there one thing you learned at the Centre that you can point to as especially valuable to your career?

I learned so much at the Centre that informs my work, from economics to theory to occupational behaviour and of course research methods. But I think these are the takeaways from the Centre that I use the most:

  • Negotiating and dispute resolution. It’s a skill I’ve used as a communicator and as a leader.
  • I also learned how to communicate failure and incorporate lessons learned in a proactive way when Ed Faultless, Brian Dick and I did a survey for John Kervin’s Research Methods course and received ONE response. John told us to focus our project on where we went wrong and analyze the shortcomings. It was that project, also, that made me realize I’d do better in Communications than in any other area, because Ed and Brian gave up on my analytical skills and tasked me with writing and editing the report.

Do you have a favourite memory of your time at the Centre?

Two stand out:

  1. Doug Hyatt trying to console confused first year microeconomics students by saying “don’t worry, all you need for this course is high school math.” I did NOT have high school math, and he was lovely and took pity on me and helped me through.
  2. Bob Rae, who was teaching a course crossed between law, IR and business, joined me at a payphone (remember those?) to wish my mother (a lifelong NDPer) happy birthday.

Is there anything else about your experiences at the CIRHR, as a student or as an alumna, that you would like to include?

Although my career has veered from straight labour relations to communications, my time at the Centre and the incredible professors and students I encountered there gave me the solid foundation I’ve needed throughout my career. And for that, I am forever grateful.

About Susan Sperling

Susan Sperling earned her Master’s of Industrial Relations degree in 1997, and set off for a career in union-side labour relations but found that her childhood dreams of becoming a writer led her to spend much of her union time peering over the shoulders of the communications staff.

After the birth of her first child, Susan was hired to edit a start-up online publication aimed at a union-friendly audience. Among the contacts she made before the start-up money ran out was a noted child care advocate who saw the link between labour and child care, and recommended Susan for a job as Public Education Co-ordinator at the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, where she spent a couple of years agitating for quality, regulated non-profit child care.

The jump from child care to public health made sense to the people who hired her to do Media Relations at Toronto Public Health in 2002. Shortly after joining TPH, SARS hit Toronto and as the front-line media relations person for the epicentre of SARS, Susan realized that communications was not just a passing fancy.

After close to a decade in public health, Susan went to the TTC, where she led the corporate communications team and function, including trying to find new and better ways of communicating with close to 15,000 employees across several workplaces and four unions.

Susan is now Director of Communications at Northland Power, Toronto-based global developer, builder, owner and operator of renewable energy assets and infrastructure.

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