Women's History Month Spotlight: Karen Perkins
March 24, 2010
- "I am truly honored to be an SES"
- "Diversity in the work force is very important"
- "Having served my entire career with the Army, I bleed green"
WASHINGTON, D.C. - When Karen Perkins, director of human resources for Installation Management Command, was growing up, she wanted to be a firefighter.
However, her father told her that "girls couldn't do that."
Then she considered becoming a teacher. Instead, right out of high school at 17, she followed her father's footsteps in joining civil service. Starting out as a GS-2 typist, she has worked in the human resources field for most of her career.
She also worked full time while attending college at night - while raising two children - earning a bachelor's degree in government administration from Christopher Newport University and a master's degree in public administration from Old Dominion University.
In November 2009, she was appointed to the Senior Executive Service and now directs internal human resources programs that provide critical services to Soldiers, families and civilians at Army installations around the globe.
"I am truly honored to be an SES," Perkins said. "In my early days working for the government, I thought making it to the GS-12 level would be wonderful. I am indebted to many people who have contributed to my career and helped me to get where I am today."
Perkins said her third- and seventh-grade teachers influenced her early in life. One was loving and passionate, instilling in her students the desire to learn; the other was a tough disciplinarian. These traits helped to shape her career.
She also attributes the support and belief in her by a female leader in affording her the opportunity to handle a joint and interagency project from cradle to grave. And Diane Devens, also an SES and director of IMCOM-Europe, was instrumental in helping her to realize that with sacrifices, time, energy and compromises, she too could achieve her current rank.
There are others who were influential, but Perkins labels her mother as her true mentor, one who has never stopped teaching her daughter throughout life. Perkins credits her mother in leading her to be the strong, independent and thrifty person she is today. Plus she instilled a deep faith that guides Perkins' approach to life.
"My mother is a very smart woman who dedicated her life to our family," Perkins said. "I was so proud of her when she returned to college, and I discovered what a good writer she was. But I'm more proud of her for always giving of herself and sharing her faith with others."
With her mother and father as her role models, Perkins navigated her career within the Army. She became a leader and a role model to others.
Her leadership philosophy is a logical one. She expects people to work towards goals, providing plenty of opportunities for people to stretch and grow. She is gratified when employees are promoted for their hard work. And she believes leaders should give team members vision, provide structure, add meaning to expectations - and then let them use their strengths to accomplish in getting the job done.
"Diversity in the work force is very important ... At a garrison pre-command course, I told attendees that if you look at yourself in the mirror, (then) turn and look at your team and see that they all look like you, something is wrong," said Perkins.
In regards to women trying to make their mark in the Army, she provides this advice: credentials matter and career paths should be based on goals. She encourages others to take advantage of every opportunity, and most of all, to keep their eyes open for them.
Perkins said it is important to continuously look for ways to gain new skills and to volunteer for outside experiences. She recommends that women look hard for mentors. She also believes women should be determined and strategic in their goal for career advancement.
"Be tough and take criticism. Weigh decisions carefully. Every vacancy makes a difference. If you don't make the right choice, it could impact your entire organization," said Perkins.
With more than 30 years of service to the Army, Perkins knows what hard work and determination will do. In addition to her college degrees, she has completed the Army's Sustaining Base and Leadership and Management Course and graduated from the U.S. Army War College. She is an active member of the International City Managers' Association and the American Society for Public Administration.
During her career, Perkins has led numerous interdisciplinary teams when implementing efficiencies and business transformation across a domain of human resources services, resulting in significant savings to the Army.
She has been instrumental in developing and implementing policies and overseeing implementation for a myriad of personnel system changes; created compensation, pay and restructuring strategies for command organizations; and demonstrated her visionary thinking via the creation of a state-of-the-art training academy that presents quality programs for a wide range of government and inter-governmental agencies.
She has been recognized at every level of the Army, including the Secretary of the Army's Nick Hoge Award for professional writing, the coveted IMCOM Stalwart Award, Meritorious Civilian Service and Superior Civilian Service Awards, and other public service honors.
Perkins believes she is at the point in her career where she can now give back to the Army for all that it has given her. She feels she is in the right place and in the right position to do so because IMCOM affects the lives of people in military communities around the world.
"Having served my entire career with the Army, I bleed green. As long as I feel like I am teaching and training every day and sharing my knowledge, I will continue to serve the most respected institution in the world. I am proud to serve our Army and our nation."