The 2023 Women of the Year Awards: Leader – Winner

The winner of the Leader category of the 2023 Women of the Year Awards is Kim Barbero, CEO of the Mechanical Contractors Association of BC.

Kim Barbero
CEO, Mechanical Contractors Association of BC

Kim Barbero hadn’t heard much about the Mechanical Contractors Association of BC before a friend tipped her off about an opening at the organization. “They said there’s a position that’s been on the market for a bit and it just sounds like you,” Barbero recalls at a coffee shop on Vancouver’s west side. “I said, How so? And they said, Well, there’s issues.”

That perked the interest of Barbero, who had spent much of her career working in issues management, including at Teekay Corporation, where she served as the director of corporate communications and brand management for the Vancouver-based shipping giant.

After a lengthy interview process ended with Barbero becoming CEO of the MCABC in 2019, she quickly discovered that her friend was right. The association, which represents 10 of the 39 trades, including plumbing, heating and air conditioning, has been around since 1905. Old boys’ club doesn’t really begin to describe it.

“When I came in, we had lost a significant number of members,” says Barbero. “Financially, they were struggling—didn’t have a vision. The members were really honest about how challenging it was and the turnaround that needed to happen.”

Barbero made an effort to meet the 200 or so representatives from member companies face-to-face or by phone and took all the information she gathered to a meeting of the membership at a Burnaby hotel. There, she promised a shift based on a framework of pillars that included electrification, technology and a focus on battling the skilled trades shortage, especially when it comes to women in the field.

By 2027, says Barbero, around 27,000 people are expected to retire from skilled trades in B.C. “We’re trying as hard as we can to work with high schools, get in at the ground floor—we need to take a strategic look at why underrepresented groups, in particular women, aren’t coming into trades,” she says. “I think 5.7 percent of construction workers are women. Why? We need to change that.” In April, the MCABC announced a partnership with She Summits, an organization that empowers and supports the personal development of women, to promote careers in skilled trades.

Barbero is also working to help the industry move forward when it comes to climate action. She argues that the MCABC and its members are “the key” to the province and the city of Vancouver hitting their respective greenhouse gas emissions targets, whether it’s through building new structures or retrofitting older ones. “The role our association plays is in influencing our members who maybe don’t understand how important that is, or what steps need to be taken to get there,” she says of her team of six employees and 11 board members.

The constant theme for Barbero is that, even in an industry she knew nothing about going in, she’s tried her best to continue to be herself as she adapts to the new challenge. “Who you see is who you get,” she explains with a smile and eyes that look poised to burst out of their sockets at any moment.

“Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be so passionate about this industry…I think that if you were to speak to the staff, they would say, She has a lot of energy, she’s very passionate, direct, goal-oriented, strategic and a lot of fun.”