Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
how to set boundaries at work?width=719&height=464&fit=crop&auto=webp
how to set boundaries at work?width=398&height=256&fit=crop&auto=webp
20th Century Fox
Career > Work

Women in Executive Boards: An Interview with Kari Pries

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at American chapter.

As Forbes reported in Sept. 2023, we are seeing an increase in representation of women in executive boards, from women holding 25.6% of board seats in 2021, to 28% as of Sept. 2022. However, this growth is not constant and has already slowed down, with a 2.4% rise in growth between 2021 and 2022, compared to 3% between 2020 and 2021. 

Addressing the issue of equal representation in the private sector has certainly always been complex. Some argue for legislation that makes percentage representation mandatory. Others maintain that even pressure by investors and politicians is often not successful. Different efforts have been attempted, but the issue still creates stark division. Recently, California’s unprecedented law making it a requirement to have an established number of women on boards was ruled unconstitutional by a Los Angeles judge because “it violated the right to equal treatment,” as Forbes reported.  

After attending a conference on “Women in Power” at the Delegation of the European Union to the United States in Washington, DC last winter, I was able to connect with Kari Pries, Counselor for Canada at IDB’s Board of Executive Directors. In conversation, I better understood her personal journey as a woman who now holds an esteemed place on an executive board. 

Pries, whom I spoke to via Zoom on Feb. 10, 2023, currently holds a seat on the board of IDB, the Inter-American Development Bank, an international financial institution working to improve the lives of people in Latin America and the Caribbean through long-term financing for economic, social and institutional development. 

Pries’ journey to IDB, however, was “a convoluted path,” as she puts it. 

The first question I asked her was whether she knew from the start that this was the field she wanted to go in.

She explained that she did not start off in the field, completing her undergraduate and Masters degrees in Geography. Her professional career then began in the government of Canada, looking at telecommunications policy, particularly how to regulate telecommunications systems and protect users. 

Through this experience, she realized that she wanted to explore these international issues first-hand. So, she went to El Salvador to work with refugees and migrants both on the labor migration side and on the protection side. More specifically, she was looking into people who were applying to come to Canada to work. 

At this point, she decided to pursue a doctorate on multilateral policy negotiations in the international system and in the national system. She wanted to know how their separate spheres of influence interacted with each other, especially regarding certain issues, like citizen security. 

Immediately, I wondered how being a woman in these different fields impacted her experience. In the beginning of her career, Pries felt the Canadian system’s efforts to promote gender equality and equity had proven successful. In her experience, she only started perceiving a difference in how she was treated when she started working in El Salvador.

She recalled a specific anecdote from her time here as a young policy advisor; 

“…I was negotiating this regional migration policy, so I was sitting around the table with mostly security people…”

“It was mostly men in the room,” she said.  

During the coffee break one of the police officials said to her:

 “…well, you know, you are coming from the international organization for migration, you are talking about migration, but before you can talk about migration you really need to understand security.”, she recalled. 

Pries said that comment stuck with her because his comment felt like more than just a comment on knowledge capacity. It felt like a gendered comment because she was one of the few women in the room (and one of the few people not in the security field). 

Pries’ response (which she referred to as an “overreaction”) was to pursue a PhD in multilateral security policy negotiations. 


Based on her experience in the male-dominated security field, I wondered if she noticed gendered divisions extend to other fields. 

Pries explained that there is still a gender imbalance that has an impact on institutions. In private and public organizations we sometimes see the gender balance shift depending on the department. For instance, in finance we tend to see more men, while public sector institutions tend to be more women-dominated. Even in education, as the level of prestige of a diploma increases (undergraduate, then masters, and PhD), the gender balance shifts.

This issue comes up at the IDB as well. As you move up the ranks, the gender balance switches.

In fact, Pries is currently leading a working group at IDB, focusing on “gender diversity, equity and inclusion.” It was created in response to a decrease in representation of women in the board. Indeed, she believes that a gender imbalance has a significant impact on what we can achieve within an institution. Equal representation in governance leads to more balanced and more stable institutions. In the private sector this translates into better profits. In the public sector, this means you reach people differently.

I wanted to know what measures she considered most effective to achieve equal gender representation, particularly what she thought of quotas.

Pries revealed that the real challenge is people often become defensive around conversations on equal representation, as though their position were being questioned. Conversations on representation easily turn into conversations on merit, without consideration of privilege or of the barriers to the knowledge of the specific language necessary to access that position.

Pries discussed how she often hears people suggest that in order to see more women in executive boards we have to develop pipelines for them. Interestingly, she does not agree that it’s an issue of pipeline. She believes it’s about development and having the opportunity and access to develop. We have to create opportunities and treat people equally by giving everyone access to the same opportunities.

Pries’ work leading the gender and equity working group at IDB is not isolated. Conversations with counterparts, such as the World Bank and the IMF, are key. These efforts have allowed these institutions to make headway among staff in terms of increased representation of women in the mid and higher ranks. 

As the working group discusses plans for moving further, a valuable tool will be the Edge Certification. “EDGE is the leading global assessment and business certification for gender and intersectional equity.” according to the World Bank. This certification assesses how an institution is performing on gender and diversity representation. Proudly, the IDB boasts the title of the second multilateral bank to reach the second level of certification. The second level, “Move”, shows and proves there has been progress in the organization. 

To conclude, I asked Pries if she sees more women around her today compared to when she began her career. 

She recounted starting her career surrounded by a group of five or six newly-hired, incredibly talented and motivated young women working for a woman as their director, a woman as deputy director and a woman as manager. A fairly female-dominated environment.

Still, she recognized this wasn’t the case for the majority of women in the workplace. It was only in the last couple of years, leading the efforts to increase gender and diversity representation at IDB that she had to tackle the issue in her own career. 

“It’s been an eye-opening experience, I think, to start out in a spirit of possibility and still have that possibility and know that I am very privileged and that I have had privilege that has brought me to these roles, through opportunity, through being Canadian, through having the opportunity for education…I see that it is not an out there problem, it is a here problem too,” she concluded. 

One thing is certain, having more women on executive boards of private and public organizations is key to seeing progress in gender representation. It is thanks to the work of women like Pries, promoting women empowerment in the world, that we will finally create job opportunities at the executive level that are equally accessible to everyone. 

Flavia Marroni

American '24

Flavia is a junior at American University majoring in International Relations with a minor in French. She is from Rome, Italy, but is now living in DC, and is fluent in Italian, English, French and Spanish. Flavia is currently a contributing writer for HCAU, focusing on gender equality and women's rights.