Walker’s Legacy Profiles recognize unique women of color in business who embody the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire. In this installment, meet Karen Boykin Towns.
Whenever I meet a Black woman who has succeeded in corporate America, I am always curious to know her path to success. They always seem to have a few things in common: a polished image, a can-do attitude, and a wealth of experience. Karen Boykin Towns, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for the Pfizer Innovative Business (PIH), is no different. Karen provides corporate affairs leadership for this $30B global business and is responsible for government relations, public affairs, public policy, corporate responsibility, and communications strategies. She also serves on the national board of directors for the NAACP.
With the challenges confronting our community today, and knowing her background in politics, I was curious about Karen’s journey to VP.
KRYSTA: How has your experience in politics impacted your current role?
KAREN BOYKIN TOWNS: I believe the experiences I had in politics after college impacted my ability to succeed in my professional career. When working with my local state Senator, I was given an enormous amount of responsibility ranging from drafting legislation to troubleshooting constituent issues, speaking publicly on his behalf, meeting with not-for-profit and business leaders on issues and strategizing on how to achieve desired outcomes, and developing relationships with a wide network of people, just to name a few. Those early days taught me a lot about managing multiple projects, interacting with senior leaders, providing strategic counsel, the development of effective public speaking and communication skills, being solution-oriented, crisis management, the need to have keen self-awareness, and most importantly, the value of relationships.
KRYSTA JONES: Why do you believe it’s important to be vocal about issues in your community through organizations like the NAACP locally and nationally?
KAREN BOYKIN TOWNS: This is an area I’m particularly passionate about because first I believe we are blessed in order to be a blessing to others. Instead of just complaining about it, I believe I have an obligation to be involved locally and nationally to help bring about change. For me, it is through the NAACP, but as long as people find some vehicle to get engaged that is what’s most important.
KRYSTA: How do you feel being a woman of color has influenced your perspective as a VP?
KAREN BOYKIN TOWNS: On a day-to-day basis, although I’m a VP, I never forget that I am a woman of color. Like many, I was the first in my family to graduate from college. Over the years, I’ve seen many like my mother who have provided strong leadership in their workplace, church, civic organizations and homes so I don’t fully buy into the traditional types of leadership that you read in the tens of thousands of books on the topic.
KRYSTA JONES What advice do you have for women in business who are worried about the future of our country?
KAREN BOYKINS TOWNS: To paraphrase a bit from President Obama, “Don’t worry about it. Go out and vote and take five friends with you on November 8th!” It is also important for us as women to throw our hat into the ring and increase our numbers in those running for elective office at all levels of government, including the school board!