2020 Honoree

June Howard

Senior VP, AFLAC

“…we are sort of like these nurturers, we want to protect, we want to care for our planet for future generations. For me, I want my children and grandchildren one day to experience the planet in a way that I have. I think it’s our responsibility to do our part for those future generations…”

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?

One of the qualities for me that makes a power women first and foremost for me is someone who is confident, confident in who she is, and someone who is also very sincere and humble. Who knows who she is, puts other people first both in the workplace, community, and the home.

With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your pursuit of gender equality? Is that a global approach, or is it specific to areas you’re passionate about?

I really like the word passionate. It is for me very personal, and also focused on passion. It really started when I was young and I saw the differences in opportunities that were available to women. Whether that was women in my family, or other women co-workers. Specifically with my dad. At a very young age I just could not understand why people, women in particular, were not recognized as equal in their abilities. When I started working after I graduated from college, I started to experience some of these differences. Seeing there were job opportunity differences, and pay differences. At that time, this was probably the late 80s, there were very limited role models which made it even more difficult. Of all the companies I’ve ever worked for, I really think Afflac has done such a good job with this. It all comes from the top. The tone at the top is set by our CEO. He makes diversity a top priority. You can see it in our statistics. One of the things that we’re most proud of, is our progress we’re making in Japan. I was able to work with a lot of the women over there when I was over there for an extended period of time back in 2017 in participating and helping them plan their annual diversity conference. Around 2014, we set a goal. We wanted 30% of our leadership to be women. That was a very lofty goal back then. It turned out that we are ahead of where we thought we would be, we pretty much reached the goal at this time. We also have on site daycare available at some of our larger locations. That’s a huge issue for women. We lose a lot of women once they have children because they get a lot of pressure from spouses and family members to stay at home. Daycare isn’t as readily available. So having it on site has really opened the door for the women. From my perspective, the sad thing is here we are in 2020, and we’re still talking about this. We haven’t solved it. I have a daughter who is 19 years old, and I don’t think it’s going to be solved in her lifetime. Her working lifetime. So we have a lot of work to do, but I’m proud of the progress that Aflac has made.

Do you believe there is any gender specific role for women to play in the climate change debate?

I do. The way I look at it is women do a very good job particularly in our unique position to focus on these types of issues. We are sort of like these nurturers, we want to protect, we want to care for our planet for future generations. For me, I want my children and grandchildren one day to experience the planet in a way that I had. I think it’s our responsibility to do our part for those future generations.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who would that be and why?

I really liked this question! It really did require some thought, so I have two people that I really enjoyed learning about. One of the people is Melinda Gates. I actually saw something this morning that they had given money for Covid-19 research through their foundation. I read her book about a year ago, it opened my eyes to all the things that she is doing. It’s deeply personal for her as well to promote women’s equality in the world. One of the things she says is that when we lift up a society, we have to stop putting women down. It really opened my mind to all the serious health issues that women face all across the world. It really opened my eyes to all the work she’s done. The other person that I really admire is Ruth Bader Ginsberg. This woman has had such an incredible life. I’ve read a lot about her, i’ve seen movies and documentaries about her, and what i really admired was the relationship she had with her husband. How supportive he was, and it was because of him she even ended up being on the supreme court. There was just so much energy and so much passion inside that little lady. The accomplishments of her children, you know she has her two children, how she has been able to balance all of this…It’s just such an inspiring story.

What historical figure do you identify with?

It was looking at someone that had very humble beginnings, who has overcome great obstacles to do something amazing, and also giving back to others. The person is not really in history yet, but the person is Dolly Parton. She came from very humble beginnings, and literally this woman has built an empire. I’ve seen her talking in an interview about when she first started out and how she was sort of treated as a performer. She recognized that in order for her to be successful and do the things she wanted to do, she had to break away from Porter Wagner and get out on her own. This took incredible courage because this was in the 60s or 70s.

In what way do you work towards women’s power and equality, and in what way do you think is a number one action we should take, for example affirmative action, to do so?

It was difficult for me as a younger working person to find a role model. So what i’ve tried to do is be that role mode. The person that encourages women to achieve balance. What I tell people is that you don’t have to choose between work and home. But you also can’t choose everything at the same time. For women that have worked for me in the past, I’ve created opportunities for them so they can stay in the workplace and can stay current. I realized that we lose women, and by them leaving the workforce, will never be able to close this gap. What they need is a little flexibility, keep them in the workplace, and they continue to contribute, and they stay current. In my field that’s really important to stay current and eventually after some period of time they will emerge. Ready to take on bigger roles, bigger responsibilities. That’s what I try to do. The biggest issue is still the pay issue. The pay gap. I feel quite strongly that people should be paid the same for the same work.

Have you ever personally encountered a situation where you have been blocked in the workplace based on your gender?

I wouldn’t call it a block per sey, more like a detour. When I had my son in 1995, I was still in public accounting, and in those days it was unusual to find a working mother at the firm. It was a tough job, there’s long hours, and some travel involved. At that time, there really were not all of these flexible working arrangements. Definitely no working from home. It was either up or out environment. I had a couple of choices. I could either leave the firm, which I did enjoy my job and thought the work was fulfilling. Or try to see if there was some flexibility. Fortunately, I was working for a partner who was of the mindset to be flexible. So, I came up with my own flexible work arrangement. It was the first the firm had ever done, and served as a model in the area where I was working in South Florida. I eventually did leave the firm, but I didn’t leave because of this reason. It really was something that meant a lot to be. Being able to balance that out.

Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between men and women? New York State put out an outlaw on this practice. Should there be a push to ban asking this question?

I have not even thought about this until you asked this question. In the way we look at roles in Aflac is, you are applying for a role. That role has a market rate. It has a price. If you meet the qualifications for that role, to me it’s not overly relevant what your past salary history has been. If you’re qualified for this role, and there is a market rate, that is what you should be paid. Male, female, whatever the case may be.

Do you feel like the political landscape has changed for women over the past years? And if so, in what way do you think that will come forward in the election?

I think that, from the numbers, the political landscape has opened up. If you look at the national numbers you can see the numbers are increasing. Here in Georgia, we have our first woman senator who has just taken office. That’s the first time for Georgia. I’ve told people there will be good things that come out of Covid-19, but one of the things I noticed is that some of the governors that are women are speaking out about Covid-19. One is the governor of Michigan. She was very vocal about what was needed for her state. It wasn’t even somebody I knew anything about. So, it is opening up, but clearly we have not gotten there in terms of we haven’t had a female president yet, we had a candidate, but didn’t quite make it. So, more to come there.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today?

We talked a little bit earlier about piano lessons. That is one of the things that was a defining experience. A lot of people in my family are musicians. My mother wanted me and my sister to take piano lessons. The problem with the piano lessons is that you have to practice. I remember sitting at the piano practicing for 30 minutes every day. 30 minutes is a long time when you’re 8 years old. At some point, I decided I don’t want to do this anymore. My mother had other ideas. She would not let me stop taking piano lessons. Eventually over time you get better at it. I decided this was something I really enjoyed. I ended up taking lessons all the way through college. What I learned from all of this is the importance of discipline, practice, sticking with things when it gets difficult. Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people who have taken piano lessons. They all say the same thing. I really wish I could have kept going. So, that’s one of the things I’ve learned from that.

There are many studies that support the idea of female presence in the boardroom increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What do you think we can do to support and enhance the position of women in high profile positions?

For me, it’s going back to being a role model and encouraging younger women to dream and to dream big. We have a number of board members that are female, and it’s been my pleasure to have them. They have been so generous with their time. They participate on panels with our Japanese women, and our US women, and talked about their experiences and shared their stories. It’s the story that means so much. They’ve been very inspiring to our younger women.

There is some repetitive messaging that carries through on the questions, but it’s just the support of moving forward, right? Moving onto the next question. In having children, this may resonate with you really well. Everyone talks about education, education, education. Particularly Western society focuses on growing your children and making them stronger and more educated. The better educated they are, the bigger footprint they have in life. The fact that education is made so expensive because it is a capital space.

My oldest has graduated form college, and there were never any questions that she was going to go. I have a freshman in college right now. Education I believe for me, it was a way out. My mother recognized that. I told you earlier when my sister and I were very small, she would talk to us about going to college. What I would tell you is that my parents were not wealthy people. I do think that education should be available and be affordable to fit anyone’s budget. In my case, I chose a school that was close to home, and I actually lived at home during my time in college and paid for most of my last year of college while working. My family couldn’t afford a Harvard education. It was out of reach. But I was grateful that there was an opportunity nearby. A very high quality education, but also affordable. I was able to leave school debt free. I think some of the state schools offer affordable options. For instance, my son went to a state school in Alabama and in-state it is extremely affordable. They have programs available. So, that’s sort of the way I think about it.

What is your favorite book?

This is an old read and I’ve read it many times. It’s non-fiction, and it’s called “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s about how ordinary people do extraordinary things. The thing I like about this book is just never underestimate the importance of hard work and how necessary it is for things to be achieved.

What do you most value in friends?

Sense of humor. Love to laugh.

Which trait do you find most uncomfortable in yourself? In others?

Self-doubt. The imposter syndrome. It’s really common in women. We think we’re just not good enough, and people are going to figure it out.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

I think they are all necessary. I think I need to work on some of them, like patience. We need all of them!

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