INTERVIEW: SARAH CLAYTON / PHOTOGRAPHS: ALEX ROZAND
Karen Beatty is Sr. Manager, Marketplace Operations at Achievers. She was interviewed as part of Tell Her Story’s ongoing partnership with Achievers Women’s Network (AWN). The series highlights women leaders at different stages of their career throughout the organization.
Karen’s energy is palpable. You can feel it when you’re in a room with her and you can feel it in her words – she is a woman who will get sh** done. For example, she is currently balancing a demanding workload against the minor project of renovating her entire house. It’s safe to say she is someone who sees challenges as opportunities to grow and innovate, a narrative that aligns to the success she has brought to her department and team.
SC: Can you tell me a little bit about your family, background, where you came from?
KB: I was born into a very strongly opinionated, action-driven family. I love them to death and they definitely made me who I am today. I have one older sister and multiple parents – my parents are divorced, and I have a stepdad. Growing up in two different neighbourhoods in Toronto fostered my independence and the ability to form relationships – I feel like that situation made me the person I am today. When it came time for high school, I chose a very nontraditional route with a school that had self-directed learning instead of classes. In grade 9 I struggled to teach myself time management and how to prioritize my work, but quickly learned that failing opens the door up to improvement. This eased the transition to University where I attended Laurier for Business. I graduated and shortly after entered the workforce. I partially regret that as my friends were travelling or getting more education while I was working. But I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t make that decision, and now I am here at Achievers. It’s been quite a ride.
SC: Did you always know you wanted to get into Operations and Technology?
KB: It was definitely a series of events that brought me to where I am today. I went to school for Business and chose to specialize in International Business in my fourth year. I got the pleasure of going to India and seeing how Indian businesses operated, how they operated with Canadian businesses and how Canadian businesses operated there. It was a really cool experience, but I’ve always had my mind on supply chain. I loved those courses in University, but when I thought about them I always thought of a warehouse and I didn’t feel that work environment was for me. When I graduated I got the first job I could, at an ad agency. A couple months in I was told that I was going to be moving into a closet that they had transformed into a work-space and that just wasn’t my style. I knew a handful of people who worked at Achievers and was able to get a job there. I didn’t foresee myself in tech, but I fell in love with the culture and the fast pace. I landed myself in Operations, where I knew my heart was, and have enjoyed the multiple years of global growth and exciting changes that have brought me here. I love tech and I love Operations.
SC: What makes you good at what you do?
KB: Thanks to how I was raised to voice my opinion, and thanks to Sheryl Sandberg for the book Lean In, I am where I am today. I have developed the ability to speak up and fight for what I need for myself and for my team – I think that is something people struggle with in the workforce, especially women. In Operations, we have a lot of back end, technical challenges and to fix them we really need to make other teams aware of what the biggest sticking points are. Being able to use that outspoken skill in day-to-day interactions has aided in growing our business globally in a scalable manner. When change is required, your most important resource is speed. You need to move fast.
SC: What was your biggest surprise when you started managing?
KB: It is very hard. I think the biggest (and I don’t want to call this a surprise) thing is that humans are extremely adaptable, smart and have many, many skills. When you’re hired into a role you have a defined job requiring a certain skill set, but most individuals have more skills than their job requires. I think one of the biggest, and most exciting, challenges as a manager is figuring out how to create an environment where employees can use all of their incredible skills outside of what their exact job requires. I think it’s a huge benefit to employees, it’s a huge benefit to companies and it’s when people are going to be their happiest.
SC: Tech has traditionally been considered a male dominated industry, how do you perceive the current industry landscape and where do you think it’s going?
KB: I almost want to call tech the modern industry of our era – meaning it’s open to modern practices like women in leadership and flex hours, for example. The landscape is in a good place because I think the tech industry is open to change in a way that other industries aren’t. The industry’s openness to flex hours assists in getting women back into the workplace after having a child. I foresee that over the years we will continue fighting for women’s rights and getting women in leadership positions. I think tech will be one of the industries that has the most women in leadership in the future because of how modern the thinking is.
SC: Between burnout and setting boundaries, how do you focus on your mental and physical health in this digital, high performance work environment?
KB: I think the best thing you can do is prioritize and understand that unless you are physically, emotionally and mentally in a stable position you won’t be able to perform at your highest capacity. For me, health has always been a priority. Whether that’s waking up earlier than I would like to in the morning to work-out or working out at lunch – I make time. There doesn’t necessarily have to be a boundary, you can leave work early and then work later in the evening, but there needs to be time to do what you need to do for you to be healthy
SC: What are your thoughts on the shift from being full-time at one company to the agile remote or freelancer work lifestyle
KB: I am 100% on board with it. I think this new style of work is improving creativity and performance within individuals, which then translates into benefits for companies. I think that the typical 9 – 5 jobs in a cubical do not breed that creativity and I think individuals place greater value on travel as it’s become a more affordable thing. It’s going to increase the innovation that companies are experiencing as people are at their best minds when they’re working in an environment that they can cope best with. We have all the tools we need today, from a logistical standpoint, to function that way so why not use them?
SC: We’re seeing engagement going from being a nice to have to must have, how do you think this is going to disrupt various industries?
KB: We are already experiencing this as you see talent jump from company to company at a fast pace. The challenge that exists is how do we fix this and the companies that solve for engagement will be the ones that succeed. At the end of the day every manager has the ability to engage an employee, but there’s a gap in the tools and the knowledge of how to do it. It really comes down to companies putting the tools in place to help managers engage their employees.
SC: A lot of career trajectories culminate with being a manager, but that’s not for everyone. What is your advice to people as they define their career roadmap?
KB: You know yourself best. You don’t need to be a people manager to be extremely successful. You will be the most successful when you’re the happiest, and you’ll be the happiest when you’re utilizing the skills that you enjoy the most. You need to follow your heart, and you need to go to the job that is going to interest you the most. Another important component of success is taking risks and being open to unexpected turns in your career. I never thought I would be a people manager, but the opportunity presented itself and I enjoy relationship management – so why wouldn’t I give it a try?
SC: Did you have any “you didn’t know till you knew” experiences in your career?
KB: When I started at Achievers my focus was on North America, and that is where my comfort zone was. I quickly realized that in order to understand the entire business, I needed to understand the global aspect of it. Our global suppliers and our global members are a huge part of our business and its success. I had studied operating globally, but never put it into practice: I didn’t know what products would be popular in a different country, or how members shopped. After getting into the space I was presented with interesting challenges and realized how much I loved it. I’m so happy that I took the risk of operating in a global landscape because I wouldn’t be as challenged and happy as I am today if I stayed in my safe zone.