Alishea Johnson Advises Women to Use Their Voices


This Women’s History Month, Centene is shining the Spotlight on women leaders making a difference. Alishea Johnson joined Centene in 2012 and is now director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI). She shares her thoughts on advancing Centene’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, understanding intersectionality, and her advice for female leaders at all levels.

Q.    Tell us about your background and your current role at Centene?

A.    I have a background in information technology (IT) and graduated from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, where I majored in management information systems. Near the end of my senior year, I realized that IT was not my passion. However, I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it wasn’t IT. My parents always instilled the importance of education in my older sister and me, and my father was adamant about not being a fifth-year senior, so there was no time for change. I worked fulltime in IT at Edward Jones, where I initially was an intern.

While working full time, I returned to school to obtain a Master of Business Administration to expand my business knowledge. From there, I networked and identified gaps and found my place in campus recruiting at Edward Jones. That role ultimately led me to Centene 10 years ago to build the enterprisewide internship program. Through the partnerships and programs I managed, I was exposed to diversity and inclusion, which ignited the fire and passion for which I was searching for.

I have been fortunate to be a part of the DEI Office at Centene from its inception, supporting the strategy and work to advance its DEI footprint. Today, I have the pleasure of overseeing the DEI training function, managing external partnerships, and collaborating with key stakeholders, such as the Executive DEI Council, to advance DEI within the core pillars of Talent, Community Engagement, Supplier Diversity, and Stakeholder Collaboration.

I am also a Certified Diversity Professional, executive board member of Diversity Awareness Partnership, and graduate of the St. Louis Business Diversity Fellows Experience. Most importantly, I am the wife of an amazingly supportive husband, and the mother of two incredible kids — 6-year Aston and 21-month-old Autumn.

Q.    What is the most meaningful part of your job?

A.    I take great pride in supporting diversity and inclusion to create an equity-based workplace that supports and empowers all employees to be heard, respected, and appreciated. It is beyond rewarding to manage relationships that enhance Centene’s presence in the community, cultivate a diverse pipeline, and develop leaders. This ultimately supports Centene’s commitment to attract, hire, develop, and retain diverse talent at all levels that reflect the communities we serve.

Q.    Who influenced you most during your career and why?

A.    My parents have influenced me the most during my career. I saw them both work extremely hard to provide for my sister and me, and to put us in spaces they never had the opportunity to be in. They offered words of encouragement, but they also made it clear that we were not average and could achieve anything if we put in the work. I remember being in high school and bringing home a progress report with a “C” and my father saying, “C’s signify average and my girls are not average.” That has always stayed with me and is what drives me in everything I do.

Q.    What advice do you have for aspiring female leaders?

A.    Use your voice and lean in even when you don’t think you ”check” all the boxes or have all the answers. Don’t give in to “imposter syndrome” (doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud), you deserve to be where you are and where you aspire to be.

Q.    How do you feel about Centene’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion?

A.    It has been amazing to see the evolution the organization has made in this space from not having a DEI Office when I started 10 years ago, to putting out the second edition of the C-Index DEI Annual Report, outlining the collective achievements we’ve made in DEI as an organization. It is clear this work is a marathon, not a sprint, and change isn’t made over night. However, through continuous work enterprisewide, the organization continues to demonstrate commitment to cultivate a workplace and community for all.

Q.    Can you talk about the importance of intersectionality, Centene’s DEI theme for 2022?

A.    Intersectionality is about how dimensions of diversity such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class, and others “intersect” to create unique dynamics. When we work to better understand how intersectionality impacts us all in our personal and professional lives, it allows us to show up differently to build better community within the workplace and the communities in which we live and serve.

Q.    What are your thoughts on the significance of Women’s History Month?

A.    To me, Women’s History Month is about recognizing and celebrating the contributions of ALL women around the world. As a woman of color and a mother of a young girl of color, it’s important to pause and intentionally take this time to reflect on the past success, but not lose sight of the work ahead. I want her to know she stands on the shoulders of giants, and if she can dream it, she can achieve it.