As a seasoned executive who has worked with numerous global Fortune 500 companies, Karen Keegans has a unique perspective on being a senior level female executive in traditionally male dominated industries.

With International Women’s Day on March 8, Karen Keegans, Chief Human Resources Officer, reflects on what it takes to be a successful woman in business and finding balance between career and personal life.

“It definitely isn’t easy, but it’s not insurmountable. When I was starting my career, it seemed like women were just getting the opportunity to break through that glass ceiling. These women appeared to be single or married without children.”

Karen says, that’s just not the case anymore. “You have to make choices and prioritize what’s important to you. These choices are personal and as a working parent you have a lot to manage. I have three children that are now well established. And I don’t feel like I missed out on anything, and they don’t think I missed out on anything.”

Karen joined Suncor as CHRO in July 2023, yet her path to human resources (HR) was an unconventional one.

“I was fortunate as I had a number of unique and different opportunities at the beginning of my career, including sales, operations and internal audit and an early opportunity to supervise others.”

“I took roles that were parallel moves and I even took some step backs,” she says. “I think what really helped is that it gave me a broad toolbox of skills that I could leverage down the road, and it seemed to work. I didn’t follow a traditional career track.”

Yet when it comes to women navigating their own career paths, Karen suggests that “things change so quickly that you have to stay on top of it all. There are two strategies I would say: First, make sure you are doing the job you have now extremely well. It’s crucial to think about what you can pull out of today that will help guide you for the future. Secondly, pursue roles that allow you to contribute your best and give you an opportunity to continually develop.”

As CHRO, Karen values the opportunity to give back through mentoring practices, prospects and advice. “I love helping others. I love giving people the opportunity to grow and develop. I recognize that’s not always an easy thing when you’re starting out in your career because you’re in the middle of discovering so much about who you are and what skills you possess. So, I do really appreciate that aspect of my role now.”

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is to inspire inclusion in the workplace. Women, particularly those from underrepresented groups, continue to encounter obstacles and challenges in their pursuit of leadership positions. March 8 marks the celebration of social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

“I see a lot of great talent coming up through our organization. I see a lot of people that have a lot of passion. And I see a lot of people in trades that are doing extremely well in the historic ‘non-traditional’ roles for women. Suncor is a place where opportunities surround us. I’m excited about what I see for women in the future.”