Karen Carter: Chief Human Resources Officer and the first Chief Inclusion Officer, Dow Chemical Co.

Karen Carter

Karen S. Carter (B.S. ’94), Dow Chemical Company’s chief human resources officer and the first chief inclusion officer, remembers the day she snuck away from her high school class trip to Washington, D.C. She took the bus. Howard wasn’t on the school’s list of colleges to visit, so she put it on hers.

After visiting, she told her mother, “I’m either going to Howard or I’m not going anywhere.” The energy on the campus—from the drumline overheard practicing nearby to the students carrying books who all looked “really, really smart’’—ignited a burning desire to become a Bison.

Carter credits Howard University with laying the groundwork that helped her become a confi dent, capable global leader of a multibillion dollar company that employs 37,000 people in 60 countries around the world.

“At Howard, I found out excellence wasn’t just an expectation, it was part of my DNA,” said Carter, who lives in the Midland, Michigan, area where the international company is based. “I no longer waited for my copy of Black Enterprise to look at a few people who made it.” At Howard, she was exposed to excellence daily.

In addition to a heavy class load, she participated in several organizations: she was an Ooh La La! dancer, she was in a variety of business clubs, and company’s culture globally. “Inclusion and diversity is not a program, it’s part of the way we operate,” she said. “The business case for inclusion and diversity is indispensable.” Carter is married. The couple has two children and two grandchildren. If Carter— the corporate leader—could advise her undergraduate self, she’d tell her to learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

“The jobs where I grew the most were the ones where I’ve been the most uncomfortable,” she said. She recalled working for two years in China where the dominant language was Mandarin, which she didn’t speak, and going months without seeing another African American. Despite traveling around the world, her favorite place to be remains her mothers’ house in Wichita. “If I can get home and sit on my mama’s front porch—that’s my happy place.” pledged Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.

Her family in Wichita, Kansas, where she grew up as the youngest of three girls, taught her the importance of giving back. Those lessons of service were reinforced at Howard and continue to be an integral part of her life today.

“I understand that when you have a position of infl uence, you have an obligation to serve,” Carter said. But she doesn’t do it solely to help other people. Serving fuels her spirit. “Serving gives me energy,” Carter explained. Her volunteer service includes Kids Meal, which is dedicated to ending childhood hunger, the Boys & Girls Club of America and The First Tee, a youth development program that introduces them to golf.

Carter, who has a master’s degree in international business from DePaul University, started working for Dow Chemical Company in 1994, right after graduating from Howard. She has held several positions with the company all over the world. She became its first chief inclusion officer in 2017 and took on the additional role of chief human resources officer in 2018.

Her primary responsibility as chief inclusion officer is to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce, which enhances the company’s bottom line. She said she’s most proud of the fact that inclusion and diversity has grown, an essential strand in the fabric of the company’s culture globally. “Inclusion and diversity is not a program, it’s part of the way we operate,” she said. “The business case for inclusion and diversity is indispensable.”

Carter is married. The couple has two children and two grandchildren. If Carter— the corporate leader—could advise her undergraduate self, she’d tell her to learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. “The jobs where I grew the most were the ones where I’ve been the most uncomfortable,” she said.

She recalled working for two years in China where the dominant language was Mandarin, which she didn’t speak, and going months without seeing another African American. Despite traveling around the world, her favorite place to be remains her mothers’ house in Wichita. “If I can get home and sit on my mama’s front porch—that’s my happy place.”

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