Women in Business: Karen S. Carter, Global Marketing Director, Packaging and Specialty Plastics, The Dow Chemical Company

Women in Business: Karen S. Carter, Global Marketing Director, Packaging and Specialty Plastics, The Dow Chemical Company
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Karen S. Carter is the Global Marketing Director in the Packaging and Specialty Plastics business. In this role, Carter is a member of the global business team. Carter is responsible for defining and implementing the global strategy for all engagements down the packaging value chain. She leads a team that engages brand owners, retailers, universities, equipment manufacturers, design institutes, and industry associations to develop business opportunities and deliver solutions for sustainable packaging.

Before assuming her current responsibilities Karen was the General Manager for Building & Construction, Asia Pacific & India. Carter's responsibilities included developing and driving the business strategy and managing profit and loss for the business group in that region.

Carter joined Dow more than 20 years ago and has worked in a variety of other positions, including but not limited to product director for North American Gas Phase Polyethylene, product director for North American Engineering Thermoplastics, account manager for Fabricated Products, and global marketing manager and regional sales manager for Information Technology Equipment and Consumer Electronics (ITE/CE).

Carter was also involved in developing Dow's Global Diversity Expertise Center and has been published in the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association. She is a previous member of the Dow Kakoh Kabushiki Kaisha board of directors, a joint venture between Sumitomo Chemical Company, Limited and The Dow Chemical Company and is a current member of the Adoption Option, Inc. board of directors.

Carter has a bachelor's degree in marketing from Howard University and a master's degree in international business from DePaul University. She has also completed various executive training programs including the Young Executive's Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Strategic Leadership Program at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), and the International Program at Thunderbird.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Every experience in my life, whether it was good or bad, has helped to shape the individual and professional that I am today. My two sisters and I were raised by a single mother. To watch her do it all on her own with courage, strength and determination gave me a unique perspective growing up, which contributes greatly to the leader I am today. One of her biggest lessons was that you do not get rewarded for what you can do, but rather when you do something extraordinary. She always wanted us to strive for more and instilled in me the expectation that I could do and be anything I wanted. This gave me the tenacity to overcome any gender or racial challenges I faced to get to where I am today. Something my mother practiced that I have brought with me to every job I've had is to create a "collective wisdom" - which is to surround yourself with others who fill the gaps and strengthen your weaknesses. I seek coaches or mentors who are better at the things that I want to improve upon, no matter their age or level - because expertise and excellence exist in many places. In return, I am passionate about "paying it forward" to others with the knowledge I have learned.

My experiences growing up are the filter through which I lead my life and my work and I wouldn't trade any of those experiences for anything. I hope that how I conduct myself in business is reflective of the values that my mother instilled in me - excellence, integrity and compassion.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Dow?
I started working when I was 14 years old as a cashier in a local drugstore. I immediately felt a connection with wanting to succeed and enjoyed doing the things that my job required. In high school, I worked as a receptionist at IBM in a work study program which was a defining role. I became intrigued by the corporate world - the dress code, the way people conducted themselves, the responsibility, basically everything it entailed - this inspired me to want to become part of this world someday. Each small lesson I learned during these experiences has helped to shape who I am today with Dow.

I started at Dow as a college intern because I needed money for my tuition at Howard University and the jobs I had at the time were not providing enough support. Interning at Dow was one of the best decisions I have made and I have thoroughly enjoyed learning and growing during my 20-year career at Dow.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Dow?
The main highlight of my career is witnessing and enabling the success of my team. It's a great feeling for me to see people I work with move closer to their definition of success- whether that is moving to other countries, getting a promotion or simply helping them to clarify how they define their personal definition of success. I'm fortunate to work for a Company that gives me the opportunity to help people inside of Dow and in the greater community.

One of my greatest highlights professionally, and personally, was when I lived and worked in Shanghai, China. I had the opportunity to not only better understand my role as a global citizen, but to also help drive the business and financial earnings. I am so grateful for this experience to develop both professionally and personally, travelling all over Asia and India, engaging with amazing people and learning every day. It was a pivotal time for me personally and professionally because I took on a new role, worked in a new business and was immersed in a new culture and geography all at once. The experience was amazing and it allowed me to expand my views and stretch in ways I thought were unimaginable.

I don't view challenges with a negative connotation. I have accepted every challenging role as an opportunity to push my limits, personally grow and make a difference for Dow. The most challenging role for me with Dow was the opportunity I was presented with upon my return from Shanghai. My new role was all about driving change management in a business that had been successful for many years. I was charged with creating new, innovative ways to go to market and deliver new business growth. It's easy to change something when the system is failing, but it becomes more challenging when it is already successful. It's only been successful because of the outstanding team members that work in this space, the commitment of the business leaders and the experts with whom we have collaborated.

What advice can you offer women who are looking for a career in marketing?
Firstly, it's important to be clear about your professional priorities - particularly knowing what you want and where you want to be. Once you understand these things you can build a plan to get there. Marketing is fundamental to the success of any enterprise and true marketing experts make a financial impact on a company's bottom-line. To be a marketing professional, it is important to build your capabilities through education and experience to differentiate your skill sets and create a work ethic that is unparalleled. It is also important to follow the evolution of the industry. "Marketing" can mean different things in different industries and while the 4Ps (product, price, place and promotion) don't fundamentally change, industries are constantly evolving to create new ways to reach constituents. It is important to keep up with the latest trends and technologies to sustain your relevance in this evolving field.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
For me it is about work life choices vs. balance. We all have 24-hours in a day and we have to choose what we do to fill that time. When we make a commitment to one activity over another we are prioritizing what is most important to us at that particular time. It isn't about feeling like I have it all - it is about owning my decisions and the subsequent consequences. I am fortunate enough to be married to an amazing man who enables me to focus a significant amount of time on work, but there are also family times and events that deserve my undivided attention that are non-negotiable. At times the balance tips towards work and others towards family, but I take full ownership of which way the scale tips.

Earlier this year I publically committed to not sending e-mails to my team on weekends, holidays and vacations unless it was urgent. When I am with my family or on vacation I work hard to be completely focused (as I am when I'm at work), and this provides me with a revitalization and refreshment that is critical to sustained performance. The action of disconnecting and leaving my team in charge in my absence shows them that I trust them. This in turn, has elevated my team's exposure and positioned them for more leadership opportunities. It's win-win solution for all.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Gender inequality of pay. Huffington Post recently published an article that indicated women won't make as much money as men for at least another 75 years - and that is simply too long to wait. We have many women who are the sole providers of their households, either by choice or by consequence. When women are fairly and appropriately compensated it has a direct impact on families, communities and societies around the world. In the end, fighting for gender equality of pay is the RIGHT thing to do, we owe it to our daughters and granddaughters and to ourselves.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has made a significant difference if not "the" difference in my career. And it has been a contributing factor to my current success at Dow. A number of people have been gracious enough to teach, share and even advocate on my behalf by opening doors and removing barriers. From a personal perspective, I am fortunate to have had a number of people "stand in the gap" for me by coaching and helping ensure I met my potential. It has absolutely taken a village in my case. And when you have had as many mentors as I have, I believe it is a small price to pay - by "paying it forward" to others and sharing what I have learned as knowledge sharing can truly help someone else while also impacting individual and corporate objectives.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Ursula Burns - 1st African-American female CEO of a Fortune 500 Company Xerox and one of Forbes' World's 100 Most Powerful Women. She was raised by a single mom, so I feel a similarity to her and admire where she has been and what she's achieved. I had the pleasure of meeting her last year at Dow and appreciated her transparency and self-awareness.

Hillary Rodham Clinton - Former United States Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and First Lady of the United States. Regardless of your political affiliation, you can't argue that she has persevered through adversity and has played a key role in policy.

Indra Nooyi - Chairperson and CEO of the second largest food and beverage company, PepsiCo. She is a highly educated, naturalized American who is recognized as one of Forbes' World's 100 Most Powerful Women, and she also made Forbes' World's Most Powerful Moms list.

Most importantly, Karen Cayce - My Mom. My mom is the woman I strive to be most like, simply because she played the deck of life she was dealt with high integrity, optimism and grace.

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