At the corporate headquarters of drugstore chain Duane Reade in New York City, recruitment director Lisa Johnson finds it especially rewarding to promote her own hirees.
“I met a young man who came on board as a stock person,” recalls Johnson, who recently celebrated her first anniversary as director of recruitment, a role that makes her responsible for filling all management and office positions. “He said to me, ‘I know it’s only a stock position, but I’m going to become a manager, you’ll see.’ I told him ‘I’m looking forward to the day you sit in my office.’” Four weeks later the same young man was in her office dressed in a suit and tie, a newly appointed manager. “You put in the hours, make the calls, meet the people, go over the resumes and do whatever it takes to get the right candidate,” Johnson says.
As the first African-American to occupy her position at Duane Reade, Johnson knows she has her share of challenges. She insists that her ethnicity was not an issue when it came to her being hired, but she concedes that it does affect her approach to her work. “I feel that in being an African-American, I have to go that extra mile,” she says. “No one has said I have to do this just because I’m an African-American; I just challenge myself daily. You need to be challenged each day so you don’t become stagnant.”
Duane Reade practices what it preaches about diversity, she says. Not only are African-Americans already in many senior management positions, but the opportunity for others to move into high-ranking jobs always exists, she says. “We do a tremendous job of promoting from within. As the business continues to grow, we will need people to do lots of things. I’m starting to see more of it every day.”
Duane Reade’s policy of hiring the best possible candidates, helping them move up in the ranks and making it attractive for them to keep working for the company makes her job easier, she says. Indeed, it is this policy that encouraged her to join the company in April 2002. Prior to joining Duane Reade, Johnson was director of human resources for five years at the now-defunct retail chain Cosmetics Plus, although her career in retail dates back to 1983.
As a whole, the retail industry’s record on diversity has received poor reviews from organizations such as the NAACP. Johnson remains upbeat about the industry, however, excited that she is doing what she loves and that she can help others find work in retail. These two factors are key to surviving in the industry, she says.
She offers the following words of advice to African-Americans looking to get into retail at the management level: “Don’t do anything for money. Do [the job] and the money will come. When you love what you do, it shows.”