Karen Johnson Named Director of State Equity Office

Dr. Karen Johnson
Dr. Karen Johnson
OLYMPIA–Gov. Jay Inslee this week named Karen A. Johnson, PhD, director of the newly created state Office of Equity. The Office of Equity, established by the Legislature, was signed into law by Inslee in April of 2020. The office will work with agencies to increase access to equitable opportunities in order to bridge opportunity gaps and reduce disparities. The office will also work with communities to develop the state’s five-year equity plan.Johnson is currently the equity and inclusion administrator for the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC), where she works to incorporate equity, diversity, inclusion and respect (EDI-R) into DOC policy and practices. She also represents DOC on the statewide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council.

Johnson’s career includes working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, serving in roles ranging from regional equal employment opportunity (EEO) program manager to chief administrative officer of the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center. She then served as the director for Tri-Love Ministries in Seattle, working to ensure equitable access to resources and services for Black children and their families in King County before transitioning to local and state government work.

“Karen brings extensive experience working to transform local and state government systems to more equitably serve Washingtonians,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “She has oriented her entire career around helping disadvantaged communities and instituting lasting systemic and institutional change for generations to come. I have every confidence that she will be an excellent, effective director. I am looking forward to working with her collaboratively to ensure that our state is one that supports all Washingtonians. The Office of Equity is an exciting opportunity to reframe how state government works.”

“Governor Inslee has boldly announced Washington’s historic commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism and I am excited to join his team at this time,” Johnson said. “We will work to develop a new state culture that centers equity in all of its work and provides all Washingtonians with an opportunity to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“The Office of Equity Task Force benefitted tremendously from the great experience and strong moral force that Dr. Johnson brought to the table,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, who sponsored the Senate companion to the legislation creating the Office of Equity. “As director of the Office of Equity, she will be a strong and inspirational champion for creating a future that we want our children to live in.”

“After several years of community conversations and traveling across every corner of this beautiful state, I am so pleased that the Washington state Office of Equity will open with its new director, Dr. Karen Johnson,” said Rep. Mia Gregerson, prime sponsor of HB 1783. “The Office of Equity will increase access to state services and programs while also improving outcomes and opportunities for all Washingtonians. I am truly grateful for the people who stewarded this process and the thoughtfulness that has been taken in every part of this journey. It takes all of us to create a livelihood where everyone can fully participate and thrive with dignity. I am hopeful that this significant step forward will get us closer to realizing a healthier and prosperous Washington.”

“This is a giant leap forward and shows that Washington state is moving full steam ahead in how we address inclusion by dismantling racism,” said Rep. Melanie Morgan, who sat on the Office of Equity Task Force. “This isn’t just lip service; this is going to bring positive change throughout the state. I am overjoyed and proud to see the Office of Equity become a reality and appreciate the governor making all Washington residents a priority. Disparities in Black/African American, Native/Indigenous and communities of color exist. The Office of Equity shows we are serious about diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Johnson has served as adjunct faculty at The Evergreen State College, teaching courses in dismantling racism and identifying bias in public service settings for the master of public administration program.

She holds both a PhD and Master of Public Administration from Old Dominion University, and earned her bachelor of science from Utica College of Syracuse University. She has also earned a Certified Diversity Executive certification.

The appointment is effective March 8.

July 2020 Celebration Meeting Preview

confetti with ICSEW logo
Image created by Rachel Friederich

Virtual Celebration Will Be Tuesday, July 21 on Zoom and Facebook Live

Dr. Karen Johnson, Equity and Inclusion Administrator for the Washington State Department of Corrections, will be the keynote speaker for the Interagency Committee of State Employed Women’s 2020  transition celebration. The event will be held virtually place from 8:30 a.m. to noon. July 21 via Zoom and Facebook Live.

Registration Information: Zoom attendees must register through EventBrite. After registering through EventBrite, attendees will receive a confirmation email with the Zoom meeting link. Zoom is limited to 300 attendees. The ICSEW will also live stream the event on its Facebook page.

The transition celebration is one of the ICSEW’s largest events of the year. It celebrates the committee’s accomplishments over the past year and also serves as a way for the general public and perspective members to learn about the committee’s work. The event is filled with inspirational speakers and professional development presentations. Current Perspective ICSEW members are encouraged to attend. Current a members are encouraged to attend and invite guests and their agency sponsors.

The meeting will also contain a short ceremony recognizing outstanding work of current members and thanking members whose terms of service are ending for their contributions. ICSEW executive board members will also welcome newly-appointed ICSEW representatives and alternate representatives.

Jasmine Pippin-Timco and Debra Lefing, co-chairs for the ICSEW’s Public Outreach subcommittee will also announce the recipient organizations for its annual charity drive. Each year the ICSEW Public Outreach Subcommittee coordinates a statewide charity project for a Washington State Combined Fund Drive charity. This year, the subcommittee will be collecting gift cards and supplies for organizations that offer shelter, support and other resources for victims of domestic violence.

About Dr. Karen Johnson

Dr. Karen Johnson
Dr. Karen Johnson

As part of the DOC’s team devoted to diversity, equity, inclusion and respect, Johnson says she feels blessed to be in a space that aligns her professional and personal passions.  DOC’s mission is to improve public safety by positively changing lives, and its goal is to prepare incarcerated individuals to successfully return to their communities. Working for fairness and equity fuels her.

Johnson also volunteers her time with national and local organizations and causes focused on improving the lives of children, women and underserved populations.  These include serving on the boards of the Making a Difference Foundation, The YMCA,Olympia-Capital Centennial Rotary ClubJunior League of Olympia, and the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs. Johnson has been recognized by the Washington Association of School Administrators, the Olympia Education Association, theWashington State Thurston Group, Olympia High School, and Rotary District 5020 (encompassing Vancouver Island and North West Washington from Pierce County south to Woodland including the Olympic Peninsula) for her volunteerism.

Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, a master’s in public administration, and doctorate in Urban Services. She is also a member of the 2018 Leadership Women America cohort.