Influential Leader

Carolynn Johnson

Chief Executive Officer, DiversityInc
Recognition Year(s): 2022
School: Rutgers Business School, Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey-Newark/New Brunswick
Location: United States

Carolynn Johnson has nearly 20 years of experience in corporate and academic positions. She completed the ASCENT fellowship at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and received her MBA from Rutgers Business School. 

Since taking the helm as CEO of DiversityInc in May of 2019, Johnson has been ensuring that women of color have not only a seat at the table but a voice in the room. 

In February 2020, Johnson spoke with students at The Wharton School as part of its Leading [email protected] lecture series. That summer, she participated in a virtual fireside chat for the Rutgers Center for Women in Business, of which she is a founding board member, addressing racial injustice, allyship, and the power of using your platform to act as a positive disruptor for change. Johnson believes that every single person has power; whether you’re a CEO, a coordinator, a college intern, you have power because you have influence. 

In March 2021, Johnson testified before the U.S. House of Representatives on the importance of data transparency and accountability. Her testimony touched on some companies’ successes in making their data more available and the boost in profitability and equitable workforce representation that resulted from those disclosures. 

“These things aren’t going to happen overnight and we haven’t gotten where we are with quick fixes," says Johnson. "It takes carefully thought out and implemented strategies that are tested, iterative, and consciously measured to create the type of lasting change that will build a workforce which reflects our society and the values that create winning corporate cultures.” With this approach, it’s no surprise that DiversityInc has garnered a reputation as the gold standard for effective diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) measurement strategies. Since 2001, DiversityInc has hosted its annual Top 50 competition. The data submitted during the 2021 DiversityInc Top 50 competition showed that participating companies are in the process of effectively developing, implementing, tracking, and externally benchmarking their DEI strategies and outcomes. Johnson believes that taking part in the competition year over year is essential: it separates the organizations that look at DEI purely as a PR effort from those that treat it as a true business imperative.

Johnson says, “For the first time, we are looking at the makeup of the board of directors. There was a time when people would say, ‘We have women’ or ‘We have different races.’ Okay, but now we’re taking it a step further. What committees are those board members on? Are they on compensation or audit committees? What power on that board do they actually have, or are they simply there to be the gender or ethnic diversity on your board?” 

Johnson is also the creator of the Women of Color and Their Allies annual conference. The one-day conference addresses workplace challenges that women of color face in corporate America and spotlights ways thought leaders can become stronger allies. Johnson says data show that women of color are getting more college degrees than any other group in the last 30 years, yet there’s still a lack of representation in the C-suite. She believes that representation should exist at all levels of management.