Sexism not an issue for this FBL board veteran
She calls women “ladies” and says she’s never spent much time thinking about women’s issues, but Karen Henry has what it takes to serve on corporate boards.
Henry, 58, was a member of the FBL Financial Group Inc. board of directors for 10 years until it was reorganized last spring, and still serves on the Farm Bureau Life Insurance board.
What advice would she give to young women just entering the corporate world? Nothing fancy. “Stay focused and work hard,” she said from her ranch in Southwestern Wyoming.
Would she recommend that women learn to play the corporate game like men? “Absolutely not,” Henry said. “I wouldn’t have a clue how to do that.”
And does she feel obligated to help more women become directors? “I don’t feel I need to expend any energy on getting more women on boards,” she said. “Those things happen the way they’re supposed to happen. While I was on the FBL board, there was never a lady denied a place because she was a lady. A lot of ladies I’ve been associated with haven’t pursued that portion of a career. It’s not that they were denied; they didn’t seek it.”
On the other side of the issue, the chair of Corporate Women Director International, Irene Natividad, has written that several factors combine to create obstacles for women who do seek a place in the boardroom.
“Corporate directors are drawn from the most part from senior management of the Fortune 500 companies, where there are still too few women,” according to Natividad. “In the United States, 95% of senior executive positions are still held by men, even as a sizeable number of women have entered mid-level managerial ranks. This means that the women’s glass ceiling in executive positions creates a glass ceiling, in turn, for corporate directorships.”
Also, she said, director recruitment tends to rely on “an informal referral system among male directors,” and some male executives fear that women will bring a “women’s agenda” to the board instead of focusing on shareholder value and profit margins.
In Henry’s experience, though, women can achieve equal treatment in any environment just by doing the work. It might be an American West philosophy, she said.
“I grew up on a ranch, and I’ve always been an equal,” she said. On ranches, “we work with our husbands and share in the joys and sorrows.
“As settlement headed west, ladies out here didn’t have housekeepers and maids. All of that was behind them when they got here; and they had to do things for themselves and help in the homesteading,” Henry said.
“I know people who have a dude ranch or a few head of horses, and the women say, ‘I get stuck riding the horse they’d give the grandchildren when I go out.’ But I get the best horse on the place, because they know I’ll be right there when they need me.”