To celebrate Black History Month, Glassdoor will highlight several influential Black employees within our BUILD ERG (Blacks, United, In Leadership and Development) across the customer success, content, engineering, product verticals throughout February. These leaders are diverse, passionate, and driven and are incredible examples of Black Excellence.
Meet Andrea Johnson, a senior manager on the customer success team and co-chair of BUILD (Blacks United in Leadership & Development) at Glassdoor. Her passion for people's shared experiences and the celebration of diversity have been driving forces in her professional and personal history. As a child of a white mother, a nurse, and human rights advocate, and a black father, a business entrepreneur, her childhood was filled with cultural exploration, social activism, and inspiring mentors from all walks of life. Those interests led to defining life experiences such as travel and volunteer work, shaping the personal brand of leadership she holds today. Johnson prides herself on leveraging and interweaving her unique background to advocate for change and empower those she leads.
After graduating from Sonoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, she ultimately landed in Glassdoor’s Customer Success department, where she has been since 2014. During her time at Glassdoor, Andrea has moved from front-line client services to the leadership team by creating novel processes and playbooks to address both revenue growth and new business generation. In 2020, she founded Glassdoor’s Black employee resource group (BUILD) and has served as its co-chair since its inception.
We sat down for a Q&A with Johnson to learn more about her career trajectory, bi-racial background and thoughts on what Black Excellence means to her.
Q: Share your career journey. What led you down the path of your current profession?
Andrea Johnson: Reflecting on this, I can see that my path definitely hasn’t been anywhere close to straight! At the end of high school and college, I dabbled in food service, a disability resource center, a teen center, and my longest stint was at Barnes & Noble as a bookseller (I still love reading). After graduating, I went into retail management (Kohl’s) and then into a Licensed Relationship Banker (Chase Bank) role before deciding to take a year off and travel internationally, staying in hostels and doing work exchanges. When I came back, I tried to be intentional about my next job: I wanted to do something I felt passionate about gave me some personal satisfaction. Glassdoor’s mission really resonated with me, so I made a lateral move to join as an Associate Customer Success Manager back in 2014. Admittedly I was nervous about something that felt like I wasn’t moving upward in my next career step, but I feel like it really paid off: I am still passionate about what I do and have been growing in my career here ever since. I suppose the common theme with all of these jobs is a passion for helping and working with people.
Q: How has your biracial background shaped your professional and personal journey?
Johnson: I was talking to a good friend of mine about this recently, and he said, “Wow, it’s like your superpower!” I laughed, but it definitely made me reflect on how much I love my biracial identity. I see racial and social issues deeply from two distinct perspectives, and that view shapes my daily life and how I advocate for change. I try to leverage my history and experience in the way I lead at work and how I interact with people in my community. However, I would add that as much as I embrace my heritage, existing at the intersection of identities can also be very challenging. Sometimes it feels lonely: a feeling that my opinion or experience is always just outside the group's norm. Learning about other people’s stories, cultures, and backgrounds is my passion, which likely stems from wanting the nuances of each person’s identity to be recognized in the same way I want that for myself. It’s important for all people to “find their tribe.” For me, that has meant actively seeking out those shared biracial experiences, in addition to celebrating both sides of my ancestry individually.
Q: Do you feel that Glassdoor has celebrated and supported your cultural identity and surrounding community, and if so, how has it successfully done that? If not, how could it do so better?
Johnson: Glassdoor is on a journey towards increasing belonging and inclusivity, as well as acknowledging and embracing diversity. While I think we’re still a way off from that goal, I can say that I have never worked for a company trying as hard to get there. The biggest thing we can all do is keep challenging our own biases and preconceptions, trying to ensure that all people have a seat at the table and the space to have their voices heard.
Q: What does Black History Month mean to you, and how are you planning to celebrate this year?
Johnson: This month is my reminder to remember, with intention: from historical icons, like Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr, to the loving and empowering figures in my personal life, like my father, Mama Hall, and Reverend Coffee. These people, and the experiences I had with them, shaped my upbringing and taught me to be proud of being Black. They also taught me to keep dreaming, be the best I can be, and keep fighting to move us forward. I plan to celebrate by honoring these memories and motivations. I am also looking for new ways to connect with folks in my community during the month -- COVID has certainly made it harder this year!
Q: This year’s Black History Month theme is Black Excellence. How do you define Black Excellence?
A: When I was young, my father gave me a laminated copy of these words:
Johnson: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? . . . Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine . . . and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” --Marianne Williamson. A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles" (1992)
For years these words have been attributed to Nelson Mandela, and it wasn’t until recently that I learned they actually were written by someone else! Nevertheless, these words inspire the way I think about Black Excellence: to be bold, beautiful, and powerful, despite the challenges we face, to celebrate everything that makes us unique and what unites us in our humanity.
Q: How do you feel about being the Co-chair for BUILD? How is BUILD positively impacting diversity and inclusion at Glassdoor?
Johnson: My work with BUILD has truly been an anchor for me during the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and Glassdoor’s recent business restructure. When the world seemed upside down, I felt grounded in the work we were doing. I am so grateful to partner with the most incredible group of leaders, both in BUILD and Glassdoor’s other employee resource groups. They are intelligent, passionate, courageous, creative, open, empathetic, and supportive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s A LOT of work, but it feels like it’s the right kind of work. We push each other to be better people, show up for each other, and challenge the status quo, and because of that, we are building something better for Glassdoor.