Karla Avis-Birch moved from Montreal to Toronto to pursue a career in engineering at Ryerson University, and is an alumni of the National Society of Black Engineers of Canada. She now works for GO Transit, where over the past 6 years she has progressed from Project Financial Engineer to Manager, Controls and Standards, culminating in her recent career achievement as Vice President, RER New Stations and Off Corridor Infrastructure – Capital Projects Group. Within this role, Karla leads the development and quality control of design standards, provides oversight and guidance for project controls, is the functional administrator of the project management system, and oversees a business liaison team that includes procurement, realty, and legal. Most recently, she has been appointed by Infrastructure Canada to the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority board of directors who will oversee the construction of the Gordie Howe bridge.
My first job ever was… As an ice cream server at Swensen’s in Montreal.
I chose my career path because… I wanted to be lawyer, but I hated to read. Plan B was that I loved math and being creative. I wanted a career, so engineering was it.
My proudest accomplishment is… Graduating from Ryerson while working part-time, living outside the city, and getting married.
My boldest move to date was… Applying to my first Board role with TAIBU community health centre. I pursued the opportunity only to prove to myself that I could provide professional value other than my day job.
I surprise people when I tell them… I have a 14 year old and an 18 year old.
My best advice to people starting their career is… Do what you love (your academic background will always find its place).
My best advice from a mentor was… Find the one thing that you and nobody else does (I have forgotten who exactly told me that, and at the time, I did not even realize they were a mentor.)
I would tell my 20-year old self… It’s not that serious.
My biggest setback was… I can’t pinpoint any. Not to say I haven’t been frustrated or disappointed, but I’ve been fortunate and I take nothing for granted.
I overcame it by… Having perspective and my motto is “keep it movin’.”
Work/life balance is… Is not a 50/50 proposition. Do what feels right for you.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I will make up any excuse to plan a party.
I stay inspired by… Shopping. It’s therapeutic and allows me to think. Weird, but true.
The future excites me because… I am a student of change and love the process.
My next step is… Learning to delegate more and helping other get to their next step