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Rhonda Johnston

Rhonda Johnston

Director, Section Sales

Altria

“Growing up in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, it was rare to find a career woman. My mom bucked the system. She owned her own boutique and later joined corporate America. She didn’t just say, ‘You can be anything you want.’ She was a role model for me.

But, I wasn’t always secure in my authentic self. When I was promoted to my first line-manager position, I was the only female. All the men wore suits and ties to our meetings and the conversation always found its way to sports. Wanting to be accepted, I wore pant suits — and even the occasional tie —  to meetings and I studied up on sport stats. One of the men said to me, ‘Rhonda, you know we appreciate you for who you are. You don’t have to wear a tie for us to listen to you, but it sure is cool that you know so much about sports!’ I knew then that no matter what the gender challenge, it is best to be you — no one can do it better.

In my 30 years at Altria, I have been sponsored and mentored by male and female leaders and I appreciate what I learned from them. To me, great leaders are defined by their character, skills and values, not gender.

I believe the greatest workplace change needed is gaining appreciation of our differences, valuing them in a way that it becomes part of the company’s culture and recognizing that it’s a business imperative.”