Inspiring Women in Project Management: Karen Chovan

Today, I interview Karen Chovan, MASc. PEng. PMP. She has dedicated her life to helping others implement clean, lean, and green methods to programme and project management. Karen began her career in heavy industry, mining. She is now Principal at Enviro Integration Strategies. This firm helps companies realize tangible value by doing the right thing for our planet.
She has inspired many businesses to change the way they manage their projects. Will she inspire you? Let’s get started!
Karen, your mining background is impressive. Are there many women working in your field?
You might be surprised at how many women work in mining, but it is still significantly less than other industries. According to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council, 17% of Canadian mining workers are women.
There are a lot of women working in fields such as sustainability, community engagement, earth-geosciences, safety and health. I don’t have statistics on this, but I would venture to guess that close to half of the population is female. This was approximately what was happening when I was in school in geological engineering many years ago.
You’ll often see many women project managers involved in managing the environmental assessment, regulatory processes and supplementary programs to monitor performance and oversight.
How did your career begin?
After high school, my interests were in architectural drafting, geological engineering, dam construction management and managing field activities to support it. Then, I took a deeper dive into sustainability and its application to industrial development and organisational change.
In my previous corporate role, I was part of a team that managed organisational change to integrate sustainability throughout the company. We were involved in every aspect of the initiative, including planning and initiation, through to execution, iterative reviews, and expansion.
My focus was mainly on working with the PMO to improve their process of identifying risks and opportunities, trade off analyses, decision making, stage-gate reporting, and performance in environment, safety, and inclusion of external stakeholder requirements.
How did you get started in training project managers about sustainability?
I also mentored team leaders and played a major project oversight role (to facilitate the identification of options to support decision making). This helped me to see the gaps in my understanding of how to systematically include sustainability aspects.
After leaving the corporate world, my PM training was not up to date. I also realized how little content was provided on these topics in the standard training.
I knew I could offer a lot of support for project managers who needed it.
Although my venture to provide this training is still new, it has been very well-received!
Are project managers becoming more conscious of sustainability?
In some circles, yes. There is a significant shift in manufacturing and industrial companies towards sustainable practices.
This trend has been evident in the mining industry, particularly within larger organizations, and especially on the social side. It will be the norm for all proposed developments within the next five years, and these skills will be highly in demand.
It is not fully realized in all industries. It is not yet fully realized in all industries, nor is it likely to be for some time.
It will be taken up by project managers working in industries where there might have been potential environmental and social impacts associated with their projects. However, argumentatively, social impacts could be made with almost anything depending on how you look at the project!

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