Karen Cooper

2020 STEP Ahead Honoree

Group Manager, Weld & Paint 
Toyota Motor North America

From a young age, I have had a unique love for muscle cars and for how things work. This coupled with an engineering education, made manufacturing a natural fit for me. My passion has evolved to include an intentional purpose to be a role model and develop other women.

In 15 years at Toyota, Karen has become known for her capability, flexibility and multi-discipline experience. As project lead for the 2019 Toyota Avalon, Karen led her team, more than half of whom were first-time project engineers, in benchmarking previous projects and innovatively rethinking norms. The ensuing launch achieved excellent quality results. For her work, Karen received special recognition from Jim Lentz, Toyota’s North American regional president and CEO. She was also promoted to group manager at the Kentucky plant, where she leads a team of 890 team members. Within her first six months, she had already achieved strong results.

Karen understands the vital role of females in manufacturing and aims to increase diversity and inclusion within the automotive industry by supporting the growth of all women. While in the Quality department, she was instrumental in recruiting new talent and achieved a target of 20 percent female engineers. In addition to mentoring several women at Toyota, Karen has served as chair of Toyota’s WIIT (Women Influencing and Impacting Toyota) group. Under her leadership, the group’s activity plan included a recognition program for recently promoted women, a Q&A event with female Toyota leaders and a women’s development series.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky is proud to foster STEM education partnerships, including one with Elkhorn Crossing High School. For six years, Karen has dedicated herself to this partnership, providing formal feedback on the students’ engineering projects and supporting their growth in technical knowledge, critical thinking, work ethic and collaboration. Her enthusiasm has brought many WITT members into the partnership, with 35 volunteers in the first year alone. Karen’s dedication to this initiative, along with her frequent participation in Kentucky’s Governor’s Scholars program, Toyota’s “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” day and Junior Achievement, make her a model for women helping other women build STEM careers.