Katie Rowen wasn’t always on the path to become a lawyer. “I sort of fell into it and got lucky,” she says. Originally an environmental policy major, she was interested in the crossroads of government, science, and economics. But, eventually, when she enrolled in law school intending to practice environmental law, she realized her passions laid elsewhere and gravitated toward litigation and employment law.
“Because I lead both global employment law and litigation, I have visibility into most of our risk and conflict issues,” she explains. “To provide value to the organization I need to be flexible in my thinking and approach every problem as an opportunity. It might be an opportunity to improve a process, or educate our leaders, or drive inclusion. The common thread in those opportunities though is the ability to increase employee engagement. In my role, you get to help shape the culture of the organization, which is really compelling to me.”
Since finding her passion, Rowen has carried it through in-house positions focused on employment, compliance, and general litigation in Arizona, Massachusetts, and now Seattle, Washington. In her current position as vice president of labor and employment and litigation for Fortive, a Fortune 500 diversified industrial growth company, she channels the lessons she learned from past mentors, modeling her own leadership style based on their valuable skill sets. One of the most important lessons, she says, was learning the advantages of reflection and slowing down.
“I am biased toward action and so it is naturally hard for me to slow down, but as you progress in your career and the problems you are facing become more complex, you have to be thoughtful and not jump to a solution right away if you can help it. I have learned the importance of slowing down and getting feedback from all stakeholders before I act. Reflection offers opportunity to come up with more elegant solutions, develop a more junior team member by pulling them in, or get further buy-in and support from the organization,” she explains.
To fuel her own happiness, Katie Rowen practices her favorite hobbies in her free time. She adores traveling, her abundant vegetable garden, and spending time with her wife and their three rescued dogs. But, above all, she’s deeply passionate about cooking.
“It’s a great de-stressor for me,” Rowen says. “When I get home from the office, the first thing I do is put on an apron and start cooking. In fact, you can tell when I’m having particularly busy weeks because my meals get more and more elaborate.”
In all, Rowen’s approach fits in with Fortive’s drive to help customers succeed and build extraordinary teams, and allows for more effective communication, whether it be work-related or societally relevant.
Approaching the midterm elections in November 2018, Rowen recognized that the political climate of the United States was spilling into the workplace environment. “The new watercooler gossip isn’t gossip at all—it’s current events,” she says. As such, Rowen decided it would be valuable to educate Fortive leaders about best practices and legal issues that arise in managing political conflict and diversity discussions in the workplace and created a workshop to accomplish this goal.
“The genesis of the project was really just taking in the political atmosphere when there is increasing political divisiveness in America and an erosion of civil discourse,” Rowen illustrates. “The most emotional political issues of the last couple years have been diversity issues—the Kavanaugh hearings, separation of families at the border, the #MeToo movement—and this diversity thread provides a greater nexus to the workplace. Further, these political issues naturally spill into the workplace simply because everyone is talking about them.”
In these workshops, Rowen led Fortive’s senior leaders and the entire US HR team through hypothetical situations using real life scenarios of political and diversity issues that have impacted other companies. For example, what should a company do when an employee skips work to protest or someone writes a politically charged message on their office whiteboard? The teams would work together to mock handle similar scenarios allowing them to realize the intricacies and legal frameworks for each unique case.
“The workshop shows the team that handling these issues well requires a cross-functional lens and a thorough and individualized analysis in order to ensure you have considered all of the issues and stakeholders,” Rowen says.
“The new watercooler gossip isn’t gossip at all—it’s current events.”
Rowen easily tags this project as her favorite to date. “I’m so incredibly lucky that I work at a company where our senior leaders see these challenges as an opportunity to drive engagement and culture,” she says.
“And for me personally to be able to drive our values and our culture and employee engagement within the legal function—and to help facilitate the success of our executives and HR leaders—is just a special privilege,” she adds.
Moving forward, Rowen hopes to continue progressing in her career, venturing simply “to continue to move it into roles with greater organizational impact and with an even greater opportunity to develop others.” Her personal goals are simple, too: “to be the best family member, friend and colleague” she can be. Whether facilitating political thought or promoting inclusion and diversity initiatives, she keeps her simple but important goals as guideposts to ensure the happiness of the people in her personal life, and the success of the clients in her professional life.