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Interview
Kathy Milsom reflects on her journey as SCC Chair and provides insight on her views on SCC’s future

November 20, 2020

Kathy Milsom reflects on her journey as SCC Chair and provides insight on her views on SCC’s future

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Interview
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Kathy Milsom served two three-year term mandates as Chair of the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). She was first appointed in May 2013 and reappointed in November 2017. Her strong leadership skills and vast experience has directed SCC’s evolution over the years, ensuring that we were exceling at fulfilling our mandate, and advocating on SCC’s behalf about the benefits and impacts standardization brings to Canada and Canadians. Kathy leaves SCC the legacy of her significant contributions that improved who we are as an organization today.

 

Q.
When you first started, what were you hoping to accomplish as SCC Chair?
A.

As a former CEO of the Technical Standards and Safety Authority for eight years, I had an appreciation of the importance and value of standardization for Canada and Canadians; however, I also realized the tremendous untapped potential of standardization to not only enhance the safety and wellbeing of Canadians, but for innovators and industry, and driving prosperity and job creation for Canada. My hope was to build on SCC’s solid foundation to take it and its impact to the next level.

 

Q.
What did you see as the biggest challenge when you started in 2013? 
A.

There were two key challenges that I noted. First, I saw a need to raise the profile of SCC with industry and technical experts to encourage more participation in standards setting, to enable Canada to be standards setters rather than standards takers. The second challenge was to help the Government of Canada fully appreciate the value of SCC—as a small but hugely impactful Crown corporation—to secure appropriate, sustainable funding to deliver on its mandate.

 

Q.
How has SCC evolved in the past seven years under your leadership?
A.

SCC’s profile has grown significantly over the past seven years, both nationally and internationally. This has enabled the organization to be more influential in all aspects of its mandate. We have developed ambitious but achievable corporate plans, and we have been able to demonstrate to the Government of Canada that relatively small investments in SCC can deliver significant returns. We also experienced a smooth handover of leadership from long-serving CEO John Walter, to our current CEO Chantal Guay. It has been a pleasure to witness the evolution of the organization to one that truly values a culture of high morale and performance, and employee engagement. At the core, it is SCC’s employees that drive and deliver the results, and we have a fantastic team.

 

Q.
In August 2019, SCC became one of the first national standards organizations to publish a five-year strategy to improve gender equity in standards aligned with the United Nations Declaration for Gender Responsive Standards. How important is the role of standards in bringing social change?
A.

This is a very timely question. As the pandemic is ravaging the world, we see that women are being disproportionately impacted.  For example, we have heard reports of women health care workers being at a higher risk of contracting COVID because of ill-fitting personal protective equipment. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. As Council Chair, I am inspired and proud of the tangible action SCC has and continues to take to improve gender equality.

SCC has done an analysis, using data from 106 countries, of the impact of gender on standardization. We have identified evidence that standards are not protecting women as well as they are protecting men. This ground-breaking research is captured in SCC’s new report When One Size Does Not Protect All: Understanding Why Gender Matters for Standardization. SCC’s research is gaining worldwide recognition. Understanding how standardization impacts women is essential to taking affirmative action.

Standards are a force for good in societies, ensuring that products, services and processes work as intended. They support economic growth, facilitate trade, and play a role in protecting health and safety. By taking action to ensure that standards are gender responsive, those responsible for standards development will magnify the positive impact they can have on society as a whole.

 

Q.
Recently, the success of Canada’s proposal to develop the first conformity assessment standard for AI, ISO/IEC 42001 Artificial Intelligence Management System Standard was announced. Additionally, SCC employee Marta Janczarski was elected to be the project editor supporting Paul Cotton’s leadership of the Working Group on Foundational Standards. What are the benefits you see for Canada and Canadians in this leadership opportunity?
A.

I have had a long-standing interest—both personally and professionally—in artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence is ubiquitous. Most people do not realize the extent to which it is present in our everyday lives. It has tremendous potential, but it also comes with significant risk. I had the opportunity to attend a joint ISO/IEC technical committee meeting with some of the world’s top experts in artificial intelligence. Two things resonated with me. The clear leadership of our Canadian experts, including Paul Cotton, Frank Rudzicz and Marta, and how significantly standardization is lagging behind the prevalence of artificial intelligence. It also gave me the opportunity to appreciate Marta’s considerable knowledge and expertise. Considering these two factors, we are fortunate to have Marta elected to such an important international role, and for such a critical field with so much potential for Canada.

 

Q.
As you look ahead to the next decade, what are the biggest opportunities you see for SCC?
A.

The world is changing rapidly, and standardization and conformity assessment have to keep pace. Canada has never been in a better position in terms of international influence. We are highly respected and have representation on, if not leadership of, all the key international entities. Our CEO Chantal Guay’s appointment to ISO Council creates a particular opportunity for influencing positive change, inclusion and responsiveness in the world of standardization. By being a standards setter, Canada can have influence beyond its borders, and can shape the future according to our interests and values. SCC can ensure that Canada’s interests are well-represented and that we are leading the way in areas of importance such as AI, circular economy, cannabis and more. There is also a need to raise awareness of the value and importance of standardization in shaping our future as a society. Standardization is playing a key role in dealing with the pandemic, but I am confident that it can play a greater role in our economic recovery, and in our fight against climate change.

 

Q.
What are you most proud of as you leave this role? 
A.

I am extremely proud of the SCC team, and how such a small team continues to deliver such significant results. Kudos to Chantal and the other executives for their emphasis on employee engagement and innovation. I am also proud to be part of a highly effective governing Council.

 

Q.
What has been your most memorable experience as SCC Chair?
A.

I attended the ISO General Assembly in Cape Town in 2019. It was my first time attending a general assembly. It enabled me to experience directly how highly regarded our Canadian delegation representatives are and how important our positive relationships with other national bodies are to advance Canadian interests.

Q.
What advice can you provide to your successor?
A.

Building on my previous response (and particularly if my successor is relatively new to the standards world), I would encourage him or her to participate in a general assembly early in his or her tenure. More importantly, and recognizing the high-performing nature of the organization, maintain the strategic (rather than operational) focus of the governing Council, and provide the environment for Council members to be constructively challenging and appropriately supportive of management.

 

The SCC governing Council reports to Parliament through the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. It has overall responsibility for the strategic oversight of SCC, holds management accountable for achieving SCC’s statutory mandate and corporate objectives, and ensures that significant risks to the corporation are identified and well-managed. It also plays an important role in setting SCC’s strategic direction and ensuring alignment with the priorities of the Government of Canada.

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