Whether she is working with clients to adopt more modern strategies and technologies across all aspects of the transformation lifecycle, or working with her colleagues to cultivate mindsets that celebrate diversity and to lead inclusively, Katie Johar is a transformative leader. Over the course of her career, in both industry and consulting, she has focused on lending and has led global teams in multiple large-scale transformational initiatives with diverse delivery models at leading companies. More recently, as a Principal with the Financial Services Organization (FSO) of Ernst & Young LLP (EY US), Katie helps her clients compete in a world where the forces of innovation are transforming financial services at Captives and Auto Finance Companies at an unprecedented rate. In her role as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leader for Financial Services Business Transformation, Katie works to build transformative leaders through activities and initiatives connecting with each other and developing successful careers. Katie unwinds by spending quality time with her family and close friends in the great outdoors. She especially enjoys unstructured time near an ocean or lake and closing the day with unguarded conversations by the fire.
Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.
My family, friends, teachers, mentors and sponsors. I am a firm believer in ‘it takes a village,’ and know I would not be where I am today without the love, support, and sacrifices those in my life have made to help me reach the personal and professional goals I have accomplished to date.
Resumes highlight professional and educational achievements. Which one of your life or personal experiences deserves to be on your resume?
The challenges my family and I faced growing up are a large part of what has shaped me as a human and built resiliency and perseverance. My parents, independently, faced incredible life challenges. At the age of 13, my mother’s father passed away and her mother had a stroke, diminishing her ability to walk and speak. My mother became her caretaker, but still found the time and energy to pursue her dreams. In his late 30s, my father came very close to dying and required a liver transplant and significant rehabilitation afterwards to relearn many seemingly mundane tasks: walking, writing. Observing their will and determination to succeed in the face of these challenges taught me at a very young age that we are all capable of anything we set our minds to accomplish. In my freshman year of college, my mother passed away unexpectedly. It was my turn to conjure the will and determination they instilled in me to manage her affairs while also accomplishing my goal of completing my college degree and beginning a life of my own. This upbringing helps me to focus on my colleagues and clients as whole people who are trying to do the best they can, in the ways they know how.
What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?
The work we do requires people who are highly collaborative and curious. When assessing candidates, I want someone on my team who is open, honest, and willing to share their thoughts, but also someone who is genuinely willing to listen and reflect upon the thoughts and feedback of others. It is in this way we are able to build high-performing teams and in those moments where we are better together.
“Organizations can recruit as many diverse candidates as they want…but if their cultures aren’t conducive to those individual’s success, they have no reason to stay.”
What’s one piece of career advice you wish you could give to your younger self?
Enjoy the journey! Your career will be full of successes and failures. Take time to celebrate the successes and take mental note of what made them a success. Recognize those who helped you to be successful, both your mentors and those who supported you from the ground up. Analyze the failures, learn from them, and let the negativity that surrounds them go. In all things, speak to yourself as you would speak to your best friend. You deserve that same compassion.
Which three books, podcasts, or news sources do you think everyone should read? Why?
I believe books, podcasts, and news sources are so personal to an individual. They are often what we absorb in our ‘free’ time. In general, I think everyone should consider…
- reading a daily/weekly news source that educates you further about the business they support. I love the Morning Brew because it is bite-sized, witty, and holds my attention, allowing me to then do independent research on areas I want to dive deeper.
- reading a fiction book each year that transports you to a place that helps get you out of your head. I have loved John Grisham and Janet Evanovich for years and typically read at least one of their novels each year.
- listening to something that helps you unwind, whatever that means for you, at least once a week, whether it is a podcast, a meditation, or a favorite song. Music feeds my soul. I pair this with running at least once a week to clear my head and let go of stress.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?
I express my commitment to DE&I both through formal roles and informally. I have formal roles at EY as the DE&I leader for our Financial Services Business Transformation practice and as co-leader of our Inclusiveness Network Council for the Charlotte, North Carolina office. In these roles, I help our teams to enable our people to cultivate a mindset that celebrates diversity and lead inclusively through activities and initiatives to connect with each other and allies, develop careers, and grow in our communities.
Informally, I strive to lead authentically, both inside and outside of work. I intentionally choose people for my teams who are different from me, not just in the traditional ways we think about diversity, but also with regards to skillset, upbringing, and thought. I work hard to educate myself around all perspectives of a discussion and I am not afraid to engage in conversations that may be deemed as ‘tough’ or ‘taboo’ to seek deeper understanding and highlight my own ignorance. I believe it is through these vulnerabilities that we can work to create sustainable change in ourselves and the world around us.
What’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?
Put energy and effort into your organization’s culture and create positive communities. A company needs to make people feel valued and comfortable speaking up. Organizations can recruit as many diverse candidates as they want, at any level, but if their cultures aren’t conducive to those individual’s success, they have no reason to stay. Culture is a foundational component of promoting people in the workplace and helping them pursue their goals.
Focus groups with strong leadership engagement are an excellent place to start. Understanding the organization’s pulse, what people like about it, and what people want to change, is essential to building a culture everyone wants to be a part of. If an organization realizes that a group of people don’t feel valued or don’t feel like they belong, it needs to enlist feedback from all people to create a solution and accountability for action from everyone. Doing so will build people’s courage to lead and innovate, which is paramount to their success.