Emerging Voices: Bethany Corne


BCorneBethany Corne works as an Advanced Technology Internal Communications Coordinator at General Motos in Detroit, Michigan. She empowers employees to be knowledgeable brand ambassadors by engaging events and messaging involving GM’s advanced technology and global product development initiatives.

Please summarize your professional career and its high and low points. (How did you work your way up the ladder? What have you learned along the way? What factors most contributed to your success?)

Depending on what you consider my professional career, you can say that I have been a professional for either eight months or four years. I consider myself the latter, a four-year PR veteran, because I worked (and worked, and worked) in PR as a student, leading various organizations and communications teams. That hustle is what has helped me work my way into the position I have now as an internal communications coordinator at General Motors. I’d say I’m in the highest point of my career so far – I just moved into a bigger role within GM internal communications, and I am part of the team entrusted to completely rethink the way the company engages its employees.

Earning an internship, and later a full-time position, at one of the world’s largest automotive companies was not easy. Yet I knew I was called to do it, and I would do anything I could to get there. The conviction that I was meant to work for General Motors was one of the biggest factors that helped me work my way in – I believed I should work there, therefore, I behaved as though I should be working there. Belief in yourself and your abilities is a factor I can’t stress enough for people in PR. If you allow yourself to entertain even an inkling of a doubt about your fit for a certain role, that doubt will show in how you pursue it. But if you believe you can reach that desired role, then you will do everything in your power until you get there.

Believe in yourself. Go out and make those dreams happen. “She believed she could, so she did,” is not just an Instagram quote, it’s real life. You can see barriers or you can see opportunities, and it all depends on how much you believe in yourself.

According to The Holmes Report, women make up about 70% of the PR workforce, but they only hold about 30% of the top positions in the industry. Why do you think there is a shortage of women leaders in PR? What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

I don’t believe that barriers exist; I believe they only exist in the minds of the people who believe in them. I can name a dozen incredible female leaders in PR off the top of my head. These are the women who never questioned their worth, never doubted their leadership skills, and always did what it took to gain experiences and reach higher levels of leadership. The people who get stopped by barriers are the people who believe those barriers are there. They see barriers, not opportunities to change direction. They see what can’t be, rather than what could be. The most significant barrier to female leadership is that women believe there are barriers at all, and if we all took a stand to say that we wouldn’t allow setbacks to become barriers, the industry would begin to see a radical shift in power among the genders.

What can organizations (and the industry as a whole) do to prepare women for top leadership positions? What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in leadership?

One of the best ways that the industry can prepare women to become leaders is to drop the phrase “for women” from its vocabulary. Future female leaders don’t need “leadership training for women,” they need “leadership training.” Pure and simple. If women want to perceive less barriers and reach the same levels of leadership as their male counterparts, they need to receive the same caliber of training and mentorship that isn’t tailored to the female thought process.

For women who want to achieve a leadership role, the best advice I can give is to fill your cup first. The reason that so many women face barriers in their career is because they perceive inadequacies, they fear failure, and they believe the subconscious biases about how a woman should behave in the workplace. Women who “fill their cup” with whatever makes them confident and joyful, whether that is faith, knowledge, relationships or anything else, will immediately see a change in their workplace demeanor. They will feel more confident in expressing their ideas and getting a seat at the table. And when women display confidence, leadership opportunities begin to open for them.

As a role model for women, what advice do you have for women interested in a career in public relations?

  • Believe in yourself first, because you have to be your #1 fan.
  • Fill your cup every day with what makes you confident, smart and joyful.
  • Never fear failure. Fail fast, iterate and continue on.
  • Go out and try. What’s the worst that is likely to happen? It won’t be as bad as not trying at all.
  • Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and be open and honest about your weaknesses while working to improve them.
  • Your only limits are the ones you set on yourself.

What has been the hardest thing about being a woman in PR?

This returns to my point about perceived barriers. Yes, I’m a woman, but I don’t see how anything about my gender affects my position at work. I get what I earn, and when I don’t get what I want, I recognize that as an opportunity to find a new solution or opportunity. When I’m at work, I am a PR professional, not a woman in PR. I hope that one day more women can approach their jobs with the same confidence, because everyone deserves to feel like they are on an even playing field.

What are the three ways you inspire and encourage teamwork among your team?

  1. I lead by example. If I want people to be creative and dream big, I throw out huge ideas that I know would never work in meetings. It gets the conversation going and invites others to open up to their creativity. It removes the fear of failure.
  2. Since I touch many teams at once, I encourage people to find congruencies among their projects. The more teams involved in a project, usually the stronger it becomes and the better the message turns out.
  3. I recognize good work. When people are recognized for what they do, they are more likely to work harder on the next project as well. It’s also a good practice to build moral and create support among team members.

How did you manage the transition from the classroom to the boardroom? What was the biggest shock or surprise during that transition about the profession?

The biggest shock for me was realizing that professionals did not have it all together. As a student, I always assumed that there was some magical transition that would occur after graduation and I’d suddenly hold the keys to the PR kingdom. The truth is, we are all just students trying to figure it out as we go, just with higher stakes and bigger budgets. I managed this realization by embracing the student in me and becoming a constant learner. I’m always trying to educate myself through online articles and webinars, as well as gleaning insight from how my coworkers handle different PR situations.

What’s something you wish you had learned in college but didn’t? What do you do to be an eternal student?

I wish I’d learned the difference between when you should deliver your best work and when you should deliver satisfactory work. This sounds completely counterintuitive – shouldn’t you strive to deliver your best work all the time? But stay with me. Sometimes a project doesn’t need an entire article written, it just needs a paragraph. If your boss is expecting a simple paragraph and it takes you a full day to deliver an entire article, not only have you wasted time and energy, but your work is also going to be chopped down to 3-4 sentences. This happened to me several times in my early career. I always felt belittled when it happened, like my work wasn’t good enough to use. I gained a lot of peace, and also spare time, when I began to realize where my energy was best used and channeling it at those projects only.

I remain an eternal student by observing my coworkers, especially those who have achieved success. I see what I like about their work, what I don’t agree with, and I store that info to be used when I encounter similar situations.

With the myriad of industry changes, what inspires you to stay motivated and encouraged?

How could you not be encouraged by industry change? Isn’t that what makes our profession so exciting in the first place? We are creative beings by nature, and a changing industry simply gives us more fuel for that creative fire within us. Changes aren’t a challenge, they are an opportunity. If you approach the industry with that mindset, you will never lose motivation.

The Plank Center created the Millennials in PR series for rising public relations professionals to detail their experiences and share messages of counsel with students and other professionals.

Published: March 25, 2019