Technical Safety BC CEO bringing humanity to technology
Anyone who has worked with Catherine Roome will tell you she is far from a conventional business leader. Throughout her career, she has been passionate about breaking new ground on many fronts, from promoting women in engineering to using artificial intelligence to enhance safety.
Since 2011, Roome has been President & CEO of Technical Safety BC (formerly BC Safety Authority), the independent organization mandated to oversee the safe installation and operation of technical equipment and systems in BC. From freight trains to fireplaces, from ski lifts to escalators, and from wiring to waterslides, Technical Safety BC assesses equipment and systems that over four million British Columbians use daily.
Roome, a 2018 recipient in the Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards, KPMG Professionals category, has played a key role in advancing BC’s safety system and transforming the organization into an innovative adopter of cutting-edge technologies to advance safety.
Being an engineer in a historically male-dominated profession, Roome has always stood out from the crowd, especially when applying her technical skills to integrate humanity and technology.
She credits her “big picture” approach to her upbringing. “My mother was a teacher who was ahead of her time with technology,” she says. “She taught in a tiny school where she once had her grade 2 students build a replica of the Hubble space telescope with programmable Lego.”
Both her parents encouraged their children to “do good things”– a philosophy that she has carried with her throughout her varying leadership roles in the energy, utility and telecom sectors. At BC Hydro, for example, she led investments in the Green Energy program, among other important initiatives.
Roome has received numerous awards throughout her career, including the BC Business – B.C.'s Most Influential Women 2018; a YWCA Metro Vancouver 2017 Women of Distinction Award; and the University of Victoria’s 50th anniversary “50 Alumni Who Made A Difference” Award in 2013.
A strong advocate for women in technology, she has held leadership positions in organizations such as: the Canadian Coalition for Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology; the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation; and, the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST).
She has also been involved with Engineers and Geoscientists BC, where her work was awarded the highest engineering honour, the R.A. McLachlan Award. She is only the third woman to receive the award since it was established in 1965.
Roome says she recognized the need to support women in engineering during her time at university. “That was when the L’École Polytechnique shooting happened. It caused a lot of national reflection, and a cross-Canada panel was commissioned to consider not just basic safety for women, but what it would take to thrive in science, engineering, technology and math careers. I signed up for a speakers’ panel in Vancouver, where I met an equally courageous group of women close to my age who all felt that we had to do something about standing up for our role in technology and engineering innovation.”
Under her stewardship, Technical Safety BC has evolved into a modern, knowledge-based organization, with an interesting internal rallying cry: ‘We model the integration of technology and humanity.’ “Part of what I am passionate about today is using machine learning and artificial intelligence for social good. We are working on leveraging AI to predict where and when safety hazards might be found. If we know where risk exists, then taking care of people just got a whole lot easier.”
Part of that process has involved forging partnerships with all levels of government and within the private sector across Canada and around the world, she says. “I strongly believe that we can support learning anywhere in the globe.”
Within the province she works with numerous public sector entities in developing appropriate protocols around machine learning, AI and IoT. “We believe in sharing what we know, and connecting with people across BC,” she says. “We don’t want to have a divide between major cities and rural communities. We have to find a way to bridge both.”
Roome’s commitment to advancing safety innovation hit home with Brian Fehr, chairman and managing director of the BID Group. When he was encouraged by Roome to become a board member with Technical Safety BC, he says he had never sat on a board before. But her reputation was enough to convince him. “Catherine has been a game-changer in addressing a number of regulatory issues in the province for the better.”
Fehr, who was recently appointed to the Order of BC, is equally impressed by her work ethic. “Her professionalism is mind-boggling. She honestly balances, work, life, professionalism, charity and politics – and does it all with grace and dignity. People love working for her. I haven’t met too many people as impressive as Catherine.”
Dr. Judy Illes, Member of the Order of Canada and Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics and professor of Neurology at University of British Columbia, has been working with Technical Safety BC on a research project relating to the ethics around wearable devices. Roome in turn is a member of the Neuroethics Canada Advisory Board.
Illes says she has admired Roome’s commitment to women leaders and innovators focused on engineering and science. She cites Roome’s sincerity and visionary thinking as her key strengths. “Catherine is able to see into the future as if she was looking through a glass wall in terms of where innovation is going and how it will affect people’s health and their autonomy as individuals. It’s absolutely remarkable.”
They have since worked on research around where neurotechnology is being applied in the workplace, as well as conducted workshops on what constitutes responsible innovation in that space. “We are examining questions such as: What are the key principles and values that entrepreneurs need to keep an eye on. How do you align good ethical principles with innovation without squelching it?”
As an entrepreneur and business leader, Roome is able to bring a perspective that academics may not have, Illes notes. “Catherine brings incredible insight to the table. She is not only thinking outside of the box, she is thinking outside of the next box as well. It’s not just about encapsulating what is going to blow up or burn up. She sees the bigger picture of who we are as people in the workplace making a difference. That’s what places her amongst the top 100. It is a well-deserved honour.”
Never one to settle for the status quo, she believes that both female and male leaders have an important role to play in helping women break through the glass ceiling. “There is so much opportunity if the world would use the other 50 per cent of the available brain power to solve problems!” Roome says
This article by Denise Deveau was originally featured in the Financial Post.