The 2021 Women of the Year Awards: Corporate Leader – Winner

Jill Schnarr takes top honours.

Corporate Leader: Winner
Jill Schnarr
Chief social innovation and communications officer, Telus Corp. 

It’s fair to say that Jill Schnarr has always worked at Telus. During her holidays while earning a business administration degree from Western University, Vancouver-born Schnarr pulled shifts as a phone operator for its predecessor, BC Tel. “It was such a great job,” she says of her time on the front lines. “You would get calls for 411 or long distance or emergency. You would get people who were lonely who just wanted to talk to someone.”

Schnarr now handles two key roles at Telus, leading social innovation and communications for the telecom giant. To get there, she held a variety of posts, from her first full-time job as a marketing analyst with BC Tel Mobility in 1992 to stints in everything from business development to customer service. Before being promoted to her current position last fall, Schnarr led community investment and corporate social responsibility as vice-president, community affairs.

“Our social purpose is to leverage the power of our technology and compassion to deliver remarkable human outcomes,” Schnarr says of Telus. To advance what it calls social capitalism, the company focuses on four areas: connecting Canadians digitally, innovating in health care, caring for the environment and giving back locally.

All told, programs launched by Schnarr have seen Telus give the equivalent of $1.3 billion to charities and community organizations since 2000. Last year alone, the company donated $85 million, 5 percent of its pretax profit. Under Schnarr’s leadership, it also redirected $150 million to COVID-related efforts that included offering free smartphones and subsidized rate plans to 2.2 million seniors.

Schnarr oversaw the launch of the Telus Friendly Future Foundation, a $120-million vehicle that donates as much as $10 million to local communities annually; and the new Telus Pollinator Fund for Good, which over the next decade will invest $100 million in innovative startups confronting the nation’s biggest social challenges.

On the communications side, Schnarr says that starting four years ago, Telus created a unified narrative for its various business units. “At a high level, we want to be known for digitally enabling Canada, driving our economy, having the best networks in the world, providing the best customer service and having a social purpose.” That’s a lot to convey, admits Schnarr, who also holds an MBA from UVic’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business. “So you need to be simple in your communications, and you have to be really purposeful, and you can’t come across as noisy.”

Schnarr, who founded Connections, Telus’ women’s network, recently promoted a female colleague to VP. She’s mentored more than 100 women at the company, she estimates. “I am very much trying to help and support a number of women who report to me to also be elevated in the organization.”