Women Worth Watching 2015
Lincoln Financial’s SVP Is All about Diversity, Engagement, and Opportunity
Karen Fowler-Williams serves as senior vice president of employee relations for Lincoln Financial Group. In this critical role, she oversees HR policy development, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) compliance and risk management, recognition, the Employee Engagement Survey, tuition reimbursement, and other employee programs. Karen is a member of the company’s HR leadership team, which is responsible for HR governance enterprise-wide. She also serves on Lincoln’s Radnor-Philadelphia Grant Committee.
After serving for nearly a decade as the executive assistant for minority affairs for the governor of Indiana and executive director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, Karen began her Lincoln Financial career in 1989. She became HR director for Lincoln National Life and Lincoln’s Employee Benefits division and before taking on her current role, served as the company’s assistant vice president for diversity initiatives and director of EEO strategy.
“Take the risky path not the safe one’”
Karen earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Indiana Wesleyan University and an associate’s degree in mental health technology at Purdue University. “Being an unmarried teen mom, I originally selected a degree and career that I thought would offer job security,” said Karen. “Five years into this career, I had an “aha moment” when I needed to respond to a charge of discrimination on behalf of my employer. I realized that I wanted to build my career around fair employment practices, and set a goal that, someday, my name would be on the letterhead as Director of that state agency. Looking back, if I could give my younger self career advice, I’d say, ‘Take the risky path not the safe one’. ”
Dedicated to supporting diversity initiatives and employee engagement, Karen was an inaugural member of The Conference Board’s Employee Engagement Council and The Engagement Institute. She is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management and the Wharton Financial Services Group.
Education: BA, Indiana Wesleyan University; AA, Purdue University
The most important qualities a rising business woman should have are…
…integrity and resilience.
The career advice I’d give my former self:
Being an unmarried teen mom caused me to select a degree and career that I thought would offer job security. After five years in this career, I had an “aha moment” when I responded to a charge of discrimination for my employer. I realized that I wanted to build my career around fair employment practices, and set a goal that someday, my name would be on the letterhead as Director of that state agency. I would advise, “Take the risky path not the safe one”.
Words I live by:
I believe that every person has value and I treat everyone with dignity and respect. I try not to make assumptions about anyone’s life story or experience.
The one thing I’d do differently in my career, knowing what I know now, is…
…I should have gotten a law degree with an employment/labor focus early in my career. Not to practice, but as a complement to my portfolio.
When I really need to focus on a project, I…
…come into the office super early to avoid distractions.
My biggest career leap (and what I learned from it) was…
…when I was appointed as Executive Director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission. I learned that, as a leader, I had to build and support a strong team of individuals who had the talent, drive, and passion to achieve our goals of effectively resolving charges of discrimination.
Being a woman in my profession has been…
…difficult at times because of the perception often times has been that I have the career that I have or that I am recommending a course of action because of my race or gender. I have to retain my objectivity and know that not everyone will be pleased with the outcome or direction, especially if it negatively impacts a person’s employment. The rewards come when employees and managers thank me for a practice, policy or procedure, and for helping to resolve a problem or issue.
I’ve learned that failure is…
…like getting lost when you don’t have GPS. I know my destination, I know where I have been, and now I just need to take another look at the map to find an alternate route. Sometimes I’ve discovered that the destination I was trying to reach was not where I needed to go.
I maintain a healthy personal life by…
…laughing a lot, enjoying my family and friends, and starting each day with a positive attitude and a smile.
I knew my present career was what I wanted to do…
…when I realized that transitioning to the private sector that I could have more influence and impact on fair employment practices by developing policies and procedures, training managers and leaders, and helping to build a culture of diversity and inclusion.