A curator of experiences, Erika Johnson describes herself as someone who thrives when she’s creating opportunities for others, both professionally and personally. Driven by an enthusiasm to give back, she has long been committed to paying her success forward in supporting women and those from traditionally underrepresented groups to advance in their careers.
As such, it’s more than fitting that Johnson is now Vice President of Member Experience with Chief, a large and growing private networking organization designed for women in positions of executive leadership.
“The best part of my job is the ability to be able to blend two of my passions together on a daily basis,” she says. Leveraging her operational expertise, Johnson helps connect women from across the country in VP and C-suite positions, supporting them as they build their networks, and create community among its more than 10,000 members. “I am helping them make the most out of their membership with Chief, and this work alone, coupled with an amazing team to work with and for, is unmatched.”
Launched in 2019, Chief offers its members access to its growing community network, peer-mentoring core groups, and online programming with the option to access exclusive clubhouses in select major U.S. cities. It’s Johnson’s responsibility to ensure that Chief’s paying members benefit from the interactions made possible through engagement with their senior position peers.
Johnson, a Class of 2000 graduate who concentrated in Management, has excelled in a career in financial management positions with Capital One, American Express, and EY. She finds that her current position focuses on many operational and financial elements rooted in more processes and procedures, but notes that the underlying thread defining her role comes down to “meeting members where they are and creating a welcoming environment where they can both bring their whole selves and contribute fully to our community based on their experiences.”
In overseeing the satisfaction of those who have joined the growing group that currently has a reported waitlist totaling 40,000 hopeful would-be members, Johnson says the most enjoyable part of her role is helping the current members to make the most of Chief’s network—and the positive outcomes that come from finding and developing those connections.
Opportunities in Leadership and Diversity
One reason for the rising numbers of women interested in joining Chief has come as a result of the company’s recent decision to open membership beyond its initial metropolitan flagships, like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, to the entire country.
“This is so exciting because we know—and data proves—that there is a national need to drive more women to positions of power and keep them there. By expanding our footprint, we will be better able to connect even more influential women,” she says. The expected upshot of this strategy will create a ripple effect organically transforming organizations from the top down.
She believes that there will then be better opportunities to promote more collaboration and to initiate targeted communities especially built to support executive women. “At the core of a member’s journey is the team positioned to help her quarterback and personalize her experience,” Johnson says, energized for the changes to come in the near future and already planning more ways for her team to bring those expectations to fruition.
Johnson also recognizes the ways in which Chief is addressing important diversity issues, starting with initiatives within the organization.
What that amounts to goes beyond empowering women generally, but also strengthening Chief’s standing commitment to develop a diverse, equitable, and inclusive team, which includes a racially diverse community of members. She says that reviews of the company’s representation were followed by improvement tactics through recruiting practices spread across the entire organization, including its members, the Chief team, its Guide community, and its board. Data has proven beneficial in these areas, as they tracked demographics to implement a DEI grant program. “The program ensures that financial limitations are not a constraint for groups with identities that have potentially less access,” Johnson says, pointing out that in addition to an elevated focus on diversity in the company’s recruiting, they have also created employee resource groups and hired a Chief People Officer in the last six months.
Beyond launching private identity groups on the platform to actively cultivate an inclusive environment, Chief continues to produce workshops and conversations rooted in diversity and inclusion, Johnson says, noting that the content discussed and the speakers and moderators leading those events reflect those inclusive practices. The organization has made the future of leadership and women of color’s place in it a priority through partnerships that include minority talent pipeline nonprofit MLT, Black and Latinx economic growth startup Digital Undivided, and talent platform HireBlack.com.
“We value the strength of diversity across our members’ roles, companies, and industries, as well as their backgrounds and identities. Chief has publicly made commitments in service of our DEI and anti-racism work, as our reason for being is to change the face of leadership, and you can’t do that without doing this work,” she explains.
A Shared Responsibility
The care for Chief members and the philosophy that supports women of all backgrounds to reach their potential are integral to Johnson’s outlook on her career, the type of work culture she seeks to define, and her belief in the importance of collaboration. She says that attitude stems from her time at McIntire.
“The value of teamwork was ingrained in every aspect of my Comm experience, and it has proven to be one of the common expectations of every organization I’ve been a part of. You cannot be successful by yourself, and Comm School taught me to leverage my strengths and those of my peers. It taught me to be bullish in my point of view,” she says, knowing that no reasons can undermine her decision to maintain strong positions or promote courageous ideas, especially when armed with the appropriate data or theoretical knowledge supporting her point of view. Thinking back to her McIntire coursework, she recalls how it was through honesty, integrity, and cooperation that she and her classmates achieved their goals. “Given our small class sizes, the strength of relationships and strong communication skills have also been the foundation for much of my success to date.”
Considering herself a servant leader, Johnson believes that ultimately, the main thrust of her current role with Chief extends beyond building and leading high-performing teams, but to carry out those responsibilities with authenticity and integrity.
“You will never question where you stand with me,” she says, crediting her steadfast honesty; that frankness acts as the foundation of what she says are the many healthy relationships on the job and in her personal life. But with a career that has advanced through her commitment to deliver superior experiences for customers, clients, and colleagues in a variety of contexts, Johnson’s vision of what she does has stayed the same: It’s tied to sustaining a broad perspective that makes the success of others a priority.
“It’s critical that the work I do be bigger than me,” Johnson says. “My work and personal brand are rooted in helping others rise, and my absolute best work is done when I am a part of a transparent, nurturing, growing, hardworking, and fun culture.”