Job title and employer:
President & CEO, Technical Safety BC
What does your job title mean?
I lead the organization. So that means every day I have to do two things: have the courage to make decisions, and also be very open. People want to work with leaders who very clearly show who they are and are open with their thoughts and feelings, as well as being interested in ideas and input from all around them. I develop strategies to inspire employees to innovate and be creative. I also work hard to help the teams around me be stronger individuals and continue to grow their confidence and skill. And I communicate a lot – listening to what clients and the public needs to do safe work and feel safe, and providing technical explanations in plain language so that people have the information they need.
Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
Cowichan Valley, BC Canada
Where do you live now?
North Vancouver, BC Canada
Where did you complete your training or education?
I went to the University of Victoria and received an electrical engineering degree.
What you do at work?
I lead the organization. That means every day I have to do two things: have the courage to make decisions, and also be very open. I develop strategies to inspire employees to innovate and be creative. I also work hard to help the teams around me be stronger individuals and continue to grow their confidence and skills.
As an engineer, my career has changed from ‘managing myself’, to ‘managing others’, and now to ‘managing an enterprise”. When I was a junior engineer, I used my technical knowledge to deliver projects. For example, working in northern Pakistan, I had a key role in connecting climate instruments in the field to a communications network. These instruments were used for predicting water inflow into hydroelectric dams.
Early on in my career I was just beginning to use people skills, as every project means you work with others to understand how to solve a problem. As I began working as a project engineer, my people skills became even more important. As a project engineer, I became a “manager of others”. This meant I was responsible for a larger portfolio of technical projects. It also mean that now I had to figure out who on my team would work on them. It also mean having to decide how to best support team members with the encouragement, resources and planning that would make everyone successful.
As a project engineer, I also had to learn how to look farther out in terms of timeline, and to consider how my whole team’s actions impacted others. Eventually I became a leader of an enterprise. This meant I was responsible for multiple teams, some of whom were technical, but also finance teams, communications teams, and planning teams. I also had many different, sometimes competing areas of accountability – including operating different energy generating stations, and being responsible for hundreds of people. That meant I still had to understand the technical issues, but now almost all my skills were focused on developing amazing, talented people and giving them the support and space they needed to be successful.
With a wider influence though, what I had to do was become an even better communicator. I learned how important it was that I show others what was important, not just say it. In other words, my decisions needed to signal the values that were important, as I could no longer see every individual’s work. The farther away a leader is from the work, the more open and transparent they must be – to show their humanity and listen even more intently to what is required.
I feel lucky to have a STEM degree. It has taught me how to solve a problem, how to break it down into its parts, and to focus on what is most important. I have also learned that everything is a system – a project is part of a technical system in order for the whole thing to work. A team in an organization is part of a system of organizing work. Now I use my engineering creativity to design new ways of inspiring people.
How does what you do affect people’s lives?
Technical Safety BC has a mandate to ensure public safety. We focus on the point where a person encounters a piece of technology. This could be you on a ski lift, or you pushing the button in the elevator, or you turning on a light switch in your home. A chain of events has to happen to make sure technology is safe to use. We help set the equipment standards and establish the training requirements of people who design, build or operate that equipment. We also investigate if something goes wrong and conduct research on improvements to safe design.
We build in human factors so that we think about the behaviours of people around equipment and technology. We provide ongoing information and formal education on risk so that expectations of society can be met. We live in an amazing country with lots of opportunity. Part of that is the backbone of technology that enables us to live, play and work safely, and to get the benefit of new and innovative technologies to build our future.
What motivates you in your career?
I find incredible joy in encouraging the unique brilliance that exists in every person I work with or meet.
I continue to learn new things! I find that the wider I look at different, diverse subject areas, the more I bring back a fresh, new perspective to my work and challenge to my thinking. Lately some of those choices to learn and get out of my comfort zone have included a variety of activities. For example, from how to renovate my old airstream trailer, to watching the Royal Ballet’s virtual production of The Cellist, to following webinars on social justice issues of inequality in healthcare and the economy.
What made my career right for me was I figured out my personal values, and then tested big, career changing decisions against them. If I honoured my values, I knew I was on the right track.
How did you get to where you are today?
I played many sports in high school – track, basketball, field hockey, softball, and racquetball. There is something about learning about defeat, and still getting up the next day and carrying on, that showed me what resilience looked like. I was 5’3.5” (1.6 m) and captain of the basketball team so I got pushed around under the boards a lot. Eventually you figure out how to use your size to your advantage instead of always wishing to be taller. That ended up being a lesson that I applied later in life – to figure out your particular advantage and go all in!
Going to university after high school was a goal, but I didn’t know what sort of degree I was interested in, so I tried to keep my options open. I took courses in lots of different areas, from math & physics, to shop, to French, to law. This was useful to me because sometimes it’s easier to determine what you don’t want to focus on, rather than what you do. There is value in gaining experience in an area and then going “nope”. Learn more about my career path by reading my LinkedIn profile.
What activities do you enjoy outside of work?
I enjoy being with my family, doing beach vacations, reading, and working in my garden. I also enjoy watching movies – particularly sci-fi and indie films, and eating great meals.
What advice would you give to a young person interested in a similar career?
The world needs your talent.
As a female professional, how can you influence the advancement of women in engineering and technology?
We all have networks, and can help make connections for younger women coming up in the profession. This is something that was done for us and we can and should pay it forward.
When I was in high school, I enjoyed…
Literature and English language arts
When I was in high school, I was someone who…
Brought people together
Liked helping people
Organized activities for my friends
Played on a sports team
Was motivated by success
Wanted to be in charge
Wasn’t sure what I wanted to do
ASTTBC thanks Let’s Talk Science for their partnership in developing this career profile. Let’s Talk Science – a leading partner in Canadian education – is a national charitable organization committed to inspiring and empowering Canadian youth to develop the skills they need to participate and thrive in an ever-changing world. To accomplish this, Let’s Talk Science offers a comprehensive suite of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) based programs to support youth, educators, and volunteers across Canada. For more information about Let’s Talk Science, visit letstalkscience.ca.