Earlier this year we were delighted to welcome Karen Chan, as senior consultant to our Canadian office. Karen’s background in engineering has led her to an impressive list of achievements in giving back to her engineering community in Canada. Especially, raising awareness and encouraging careers of engineering and STEM for women and girls.
Q1 –Hi Karen, Welcome to the Canadian ADAPTOVATE team! Thanks for your time. We hope it’s not been too chilly in Toronto.
Thank you – I’m really happy to be here!
Q2. Congratulations on being an inductee in the Ontario Order of Honour for Engineering. Can you talk to us more about where you have come from career wise? You have a strong engineering back story don’t you?
Thank you! The Order of Honour for Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) recognizes volunteers who have made valuable contributions to the engineering profession.
I graduated from mechanical engineering and spent about 12 years in manufacturing, first in sales, then in automotive. In my ten years at GM, I had the opportunity to work in 7 different facilities in 3 different countries, including the plant floor, quality, design, launch and corporate affairs. In all those roles, it was about understanding customer satisfaction in order to build a better product.
I was able to pivot my manufacturing background into Technology by bringing LEAN into business processes in Digital Media. When my career switched to technology, I didn’t want to lose my connection to engineering, so I started volunteering.
In the last 10+ years of volunteering of PEO, I have been involved in my local chapter as a Board Director and Chair, supporting professional engineers in their career, coaching engineering graduates through the P.Eng licensing process, and mentoring students studying engineering in university.
Our local chapter is a recognized community leader with several signature events including Mathletics and Bridge Building. In 2018, when the Ontario government moved to create a day to recognize the contributions of engineers, our chapter was cited as an example of engineering excellence; I’m proud to have been a part of the creation of Professional Engineers Day, celebrated every March 1 in Ontario Canada.
In addition to PEO, my volunteer work includes sitting on the Advisory Council for Western Engineering, member of the Women for STEM Advisory Council at Ontario Tech U, Global Ambassador for SWE (Society of Women Engineers), Past Chair for hEr VOLUTION, and Past-President of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers.
To be inducted into the Order is an incredible honour. I volunteer because service and giving back has always been important to me. To be recognized as a leader in this space means that I’ve made a meaningful impact to my community – that I was able to help people in a real and tangible way.
Q3. We are very honoured that you have chosen ADAPTOVATE as your work family. Can you tell us why you chose to come to ADAPTOVATE?
When I left GM and went into Media, it looked like such a wild turn, but it wasn’t. I liked being able to bring the structure and discipline of manufacturing into Media technology. Lean wasn’t new to me, but it was new to them. Digital Media was a fast-paced environment and I was able to help bring order without disrupting their pace.
When I learned about agile, it felt like coming home. The Agile Manifesto really resonated with me and my training as a quality engineer – customer value, working product, responding proactively.
The agile coaching and consulting part of my career has focused on productive change and a new way of working into different industries such as retail, banking and fintech. I joined ADAPTOVATE because it’s a continuation of that journey, to bring an agile mindset to business design and transformation.
Q4. You also have a strong history in volunteering, especially in supporting girls and women in engineering / STEM. Can you explain why this is so important and what we can all do to support?
My volunteer work around girls and women stems from the fact that I hate having no options. It kills me when girls say they don’t like math and science because those are “boy” subjects; or when a kid misses out on a coding camp because they can’t afford it; or when a woman won’t be given a field assignment because they have kids and will want to stay close to home.
I want people to know that they have many opportunities in front of them; they shouldn’t be limited because someone or something told them they weren’t good enough to be there. This is why hEr VOLUTION, the Women for STEM Advisory Council, and the OSPE Diversity and Inclusion Task Force mean so much to me – it’s about putting opportunities in front of people so that they know that they have choices.
The things we can do to support girls and women in STEM / Engineering are very aligned with agile – by consciously creating a space of psychological safety; by respecting people courageous enough to speak up about their lived experience; and by helping wherever we can, as best we can.
Q5. What women have influenced you in your life?
I am fortunate to know many inspiring and amazing women, I don’t think we have space for me to name them all!
First and foremost, Canadian astronaut Julie Payette. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a Mars colonist – to be a pioneer on a different planet. I was going to apply to architecture, so that I could build the structures the colonists would live in. When I was 17, I was selected to be part of the Young Space Ambassadors program and astronaut Julie Payette was one of the speakers. She asked me what I was going to study in university, and I told her architecture because I wanted to build structures on a different planet. She told me that to be a Canadian astronaut, I would need a science degree and science didn’t count. When the time came to apply for university, I still dreamed of going into space, so I choose engineering because it seemed like the closest thing to architecture.
In university, Heather Campbell was the one who set me on the volunteering path by encouraging me to run for student council. Today, we are both members of the Advisory Council for Western Engineering. It feels like we’ve come full circle back our school.
In the early part of my career, my engineering managers Paula Ambra and Dana Porter supported me with new opportunities such as developmental assignments and special projects, and then later balancing career with family life and maternity leaves. They didn’t let me hold myself back by saying no to opportunities – they encouraged me to say yes and helped me figure out how to make it work. When I think about management styles, Paula and Dana are the role models I aspire to be.
When I joined the OSPE Board, one of my fellow Board Directors was Professor Valerie Davidson. Val is someone I admire tremendously – she has dedicated much of her professional and personal life to supporting, encouraging and advancing girls and women in engineering and leadership. She was my role model during the first year of my Board term and continues to be a friend and an inspiration. I am incredibly touched that she led my nomination to the Order of Honour.
Q6. Specifically about Agile. What changes have you seen in the way Agile is used in organizations beyond IT? Is it changing?
I’ve always been drawn to applying knowledge gained in one area to a different one – like bringing a manufacturing mindset and lean practices to business processes. My first few experiences with agile were in software product development, and now I’ve excited to be working on how to bring an agile mindset to operations and business areas. Agile isn’t about being fast – it’s about responding quickly to deliver value in a communicative, collaborative way.
Thank you so much Karen for taking the time out of a busy schedule to share your story with us.