Women in Business Q&A: Marilyn Johnson, CEO, International Women's Forum

05/23/2015 04:08 am ET | Updated May 22, 2016

Marilyn Johnson, a leading marketing strategist and business development executive, joined the International Women's Forum as CEO, after a thirty-five year career with IBM. Ms. Johnson retired as the IBM Vice President of Market Development based in Armonk, New York. In her previous capacity, Ms. Johnson led an organization responsible for developing IBM's strategy for, and marketing to, businesses owned or operated by Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Women in the Americas. In 2005, she expanded her mission to include women- owned and women-led businesses in selected markets around the globe, expanding IBM market share significantly. She has held executive positions in key IBM business units and has had management and operational responsibility in North America, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Asia. With professional experience in education, broadcasting, corporate marketing, development and sales, Ms. Johnson's career trajectory reflects a deep understanding of the broad industries and sectors that exist within the membership of the International Women's Forum.

In her early career, she was an elementary school educator and a television personality, reporting news and weather. A graduate of John Marshall University, her advanced degrees are in Education, and she attended the Harvard Business School Strategic Leadership Forum representing Finance Sector Marketing for IBM.

She has held positions on the Executive Board of the Council for Better Business Bureaus and the Executive Boards of the Asian Pacific Islander American Scholarship Foundation, the National Council of Negro Women, and American Airlines Marketing Advisory Council. She has been applauded for her active commitment to mentoring and coaching women in various career paths. Ms. Johnson has been a featured speaker for numerous professional organizations and universities around the world, including The World Diversity Conference in the City of Prague in the Czech Republic; the Black Women Executive Roundtable hosted by the Mayor of Paris, France; B.I.G. (Blacks in Government), Washington, D.C.; AWAKE in Mysore, India; Women Chiefs in Canberra, Australia; and Global Organization for Leadership and Diversity (GOLD) in Tokyo, Japan. In recognition of her many business and professional achievements, Ms. Johnson has received numerous awards, including the "Corporate Supporter of Women Entrepreneurs Award" in Beijing, China; "The Profiles of Prominence Award" from the National Women of Achievement, Inc.; and the Center for Women's Business Research "Leading By Example Award." She also was named one of "The Top 25 Influential Black Women" by The Network Journal magazine and was inducted into the YWCA of New York City's prestigious "Academy of Women Leaders." She has been featured in Working Mother magazine, ESSENCE magazine, Minority Business News, The Financial Times, The Atlanta Tribune, Global Executive Women, Enterprising Women magazine, and Uptown Professional magazine.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
A very high bar was set by my family values, academically educators pushed me and supported my ambition, my 34+ years of corporate orientation enabled me to work with some of the smartest people on the planet. I am a leader that models some of the best leaders in academics, business and the non profit worlds.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at IWF?
As a marketing and sales executive who spent time learning customer sets, global business operations, and strategic marketing planning in my early executive career and having leadership experienced in a merger and acquisition, I was fortunate to garner a breath of skills that gave me confidence to face challenge and change.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at IWF?
The challenge first-- I followed a CEO with excellent skills in growing this organization globally. Assessing how to make a great global organization greater is an awesome challenge. The membership has very high expectations and deserves the same growth results and quality programs that my predecessor delivered. The highlight has been actually working with the board of directors and meeting some of the preeminent women member leaders who make up the illustrative roster.

What do you think is the current status of women in business?
The energy of women in business is being measured more and more by academics, boards of directors and those that determine value in human resources. Women are the engine of inclusion and continue to prove the advantage of diversity.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I work everyday intentionally -- doing my job well. As for balance --FaceTime with grandchildren who live 2400 miles away helps tremendously. Also, I have recognized when my physical limit of energy is expended, I watch stress factors daily, and reward my own success by mastering in domain compensatory consumption. I like to think of myself as a spa aficionado and retail therapy with good friends and works.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Women are too often overlooked as a key talent pool for leadership. Simply put, we are too often expected to "support" and we ourselves with the help of smart men must change that narrow paradigm in the business world.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I grow as I assist others during their climb. I love it when my mentees grow beyond my career achievement. I am proud of the work I do in this space.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Dr Dorothy Height (50 years of Civil Rights and Human Rights Activism)

Deedee Coradini (first female mayor of Salt Lake City and IWF former president)

Shelia Johnson (first person to have ownership in three major sports teams and brilliant entrepreneur)

What do you want IWF to accomplish in the next year?
Three big things: a Recognized leadership development reputation globally.

Continued strategic global expansion of our forums, and a voice of impact at the United Nations (on Women's Issues globally.)