Women at Work: Purpose, Passion and Paying It Forward

Karen Bowes, Head of Human Resources for Commercial Bank, discusses the tremendous opportunities ahead for women in business


It’s Women’s History Month, and each Friday this March, we’re highlighting the perspectives of women who are making their mark at Capital One. 

Today we’re hearing from Karen Bowes, the head of human resources for Capital One’s Commercial Bank. She shares what makes working in the business-to-business space exciting, and explains how seeing female founders in action inspires her. 

Q: What inspires you about women business owners?

There are so many things that inspire me about women business owners but it is the opportunity that they create for all that inspires me the most. According to one analysis in a 2020 McKinsey Global Institute Report, advancing equality for women could add up $12 trillion to annual global GDP by 2025. 

Not only are female founders contributing to the economy at a macro level, but they’re also inspiring future talent to do the same. These women inspire others to go on that journey of starting their own business, and they help reinstate a belief in what’s possible for women in all positions, at all stages of their careers.

While it’s encouraging to see that the number of female founders is rising, there’s still work to be done, especially when it comes to accessing funding. There’s still a very low percentage of funding available for female founders when compared to male founders or male/female founders. Last year, female-founded companies received just 2.1% of the total capital invested in U.S. venture-backed startups

And the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women, and especially women of color. That’s made the job ahead of us much harder—though we have been headed in the right direction. We can’t lose focus.

Q: Which female founder do you admire, and why?

A woman I used to work with at Capital One in the UK took a leap from the corporate world to founding a consulting company that tapped into her design-thinking skills. She had an incredible amount of passion for being a female founder, and she took it one step further. She also co-founded an organization called Radikl, which addresses the gap in access to funding for female founders looking to start and scale their businesses.  

What’s most inspiring to me about her story is that she’s a working mom who took the leap to follow her skillset into consultancy, and then she transformed her passion into a purpose, created a vision and is now paying it forward to other women like her and has created a real market opportunity in support of women founders.

Q: What do you like most about working in the business-to-business space?

I’ve always been driven by how people connect the mission of our business directly to our customers. When I first started working at Capital One, I was in the consumer space. And on the consumer side, we supported individuals in their financial lives. Now, in the business-to-business space, we have the opportunity to make a difference at the macro level. 

If you’re working with businesses, you’re enabling funding, you’re enabling more efficient business practices, and you’re enabling opportunities for business owners to invest back in their businesses. From there, your work contributes to the economy, to the business, to families, and it’s ultimately paying it forward to individuals.

Q: How have female role models and mentors helped you throughout your career?

I find my female colleagues to be refreshingly honest. They’ve also had tremendous compassion and empathy for any situation–what it takes to work and have kids, what it takes to have a caretaker role, what it takes to manage challenges like mental health issues. Shared experiences like these drive meaningful connections and really help me maintain perspective in my own career.

There’s also a sense of belief that I’ve found inspiring–people believing in me so that I can see what’s possible. You could look at a role model and think, “Well, I could never do that,” but when they connect empathy, compassion and honesty, it’s less intimidating and much more inspirational....it is not about being perfect and juggling it all; it is about being resilient, surrounding yourself with support and mentors who have your back and care enough to be honest.

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