Karen A. Johnson will be the director of the newly created state Office of Equity.
Gov. Jay Inslee named Johnson to the position on Feb. 18. The Office of Equity, established by the Legislature, was signed into law by Inslee in April 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 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 program manager to chief administrative officer of the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona, Pennsylvania. 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,” Inslee said in a news release. “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.”
Johnson said she’s excited to join Inslee’s team.
“Gov. Inslee has boldly announced Washington’s historic commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism,” 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.”
Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, applauded the appointment, which is effective March 8.
“The Office of Equity Task Force benefitted tremendously from the great experience and strong moral force that Dr. Johnson brought to the table,” said 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.”
State Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, welcomes Johnson.
“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 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.”
Johnson has served as adjunct faculty at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, teaching courses in dismantling racism and identifying bias in public service settings for the master of public administration program.
She holds both a doctoral degree and master of public administration from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and earned her bachelor of science from Utica College of Syracuse University in New York. She has also earned a certified diversity executive certification.