Fern Johnson is a proponent for change when it comes to women of color in professional spaces. She started her career as a full time accounting assistant and worked her way all the way up to the c-suite. She now uses her gifts of HR and career advancement to help other women build their brands and create careers they love.
We sat down to talk with Fern about what it means to be a career woman, how she pushes forward in adversity, and the greatest gift she’s ever received.
When did your entrepreneur journey start?
After spending several years at the top of my company, I was laid off. The next day I found out I was pregnant with my fourth child, a girl – a miracle though completely unplanned, became a dream come true because I had already chosen my daughter’s name ten years prior.
After applying for over 100 jobs and dumbing down my resume, I started to refer back to my journal of notes over the course of several years. I thought about what made me most happy, what gave me the most satisfaction, what my her soul on fire, and what I found myself doing even when I was working my normal job. The answer: empowering people. Not too long after I started Career Sisters and I’ve been running since.
What has been your biggest accomplishment?
Being in the C-suite by the time I was 35 was one of my biggest accomplishments. I became the only woman of color that held a VP position at one of the largest private oncology laboratories in the southeast.
When I look back over my career, I’ve always been the “first woman of color,” to break-in, connect, build, recruit, extend, and help others emerge by educating them on the do’s and don’ts. I’m proud of the knowledge I have and the way I’m able to pass it along to others.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I experienced a great level of adversity like never before while I was pregnany with my daughter. My mom, had a brainstem sroke and went completely lifeless . Doctor’s thought she wouldn’t pull through but she did. It’s made us all stronger. Having to pave my own way and create my own opportunities has been challenging but the best thing I could have done.
How have hard times made you who you are?
I’ve learned to be creative. I know who I am and I know how to make things shake when I need to make money or create opportunities for myself. I learned how to hustle and know my worth. I’m grateful for every trial that has taught me how to level up.
Do you have a personal mantra?
“Focus not on your inadequacies but instead, rely on your assets.” My mother used to say this to us when I was young and it’s stuck with me. I always try to rely on what I do have as opposed to what I don’t.
What advice would you give someone starting a new business?
I always tell new business owners these three things. You need to know your product and the market, know your customer, and have a burning desire to succeed. Those three things will take you far.
What are your motivations?
I’m motivated by my daughter. My mother. All the beautiful people and women in my life. The fact I can help so many women move up in their careers or start their own businesses. It keeps me going.
What does it mean for you and others to spend with black businesses?
We have to support each other. I’m always going to feel that way. The more we lift each other up, the more we will move up and towards the things we want. I’m all about helping women of color be who they are created to be. These systems aren’t really made for us to succeed so we have to be the thing that pushes each other forward.