The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 13, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Dec. 8.
Next is Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Government Executive of the Year finalist Sonya Johnson, who’s communications and community outreach manager with UCOR. Here, she talks career turning points, learning from failures, proud career moments and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2020/2021?
In the midst of a pandemic, I successfully managed a Communications, Community, Workforce Development and Diversity Program with team members engaged virtually. We hosted a Diversity Summit for small business; produced multiple digital programs, including established a multimedia studio; launched a new apprenticeship program; produced our company’s annual report and Department of Energy Cleanup Progress Report; and maintained daily internal communications for a company of 2,000.
What has made you successful in your current role?
The willingness to say yes to challenges and new opportunities and involving my team in all aspects of my department’s operations.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
After being a member of and leading various organizations, I determined that to meet the demand of an increasingly digital society, I would need to build and lead a high-functioning team that can consistently meet the challenges of conveying highly technical information in multiple nontraditional formats — from printed media to video and social media posts.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
Leading a team to perform beyond their personal expectations and introducing various new programs to help our company tell its compelling story. An example would be completion of cleanup of East Tennessee Technology Park.
The story of the first-ever cleanup of a gaseous diffusion plant was an important story to share, and we garnered national attention for the effort. We also hosted a celebration event featuring the Department of Energy officials, the Tennessee governor and other dignitaries.
What are your primary focuses going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
Continuing to cultivate strong relationships with community partners and stakeholders to help achieve our company’s mission. Directing our company’s diversity efforts and cultivating relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
I am invested in informing and helping to prepare members of diverse communities for the opportunities that exist in our industry. I also direct our company’s various workforce development efforts, which range from support of STEM projects for children in local schools to specialized programs offered in colleges and universities.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
I learned that failure is a setup for success if you are steadfast, learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward. Oftentimes, it leads you where you are intended to go.
Which rules do you think you should break more as a government/industry leader?
While I would never perform outside of the regulations that we work under as a government contractor, I also think it is important to challenge the status quo and look for better ways of doing things. I am always open to new ideas and suggestions.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
I moved across country to take a position — best decision ever!
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
I am proud that I worked hard at my career, took off time to raise my daughter and then came back stronger. It taught me to never be afraid to do what you feel is best for you and your family.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
Working in a technical industry as a nontechnical professional, I had to prove that my point of view added value. I also had to learn to present sometimes complicated and technical information to an uninformed audience.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Say yes to change and challenges.