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Kimberley Johnston talks about switching careers, switching countries and staying open to new adventures. Kimberley has enjoyed acting, working in the U.S. political arena, being a solicitor at Linklaters and most recently as the Inclusion and Diversity Senior Manager at Lloyds Banking Group.
Kimberley Johnston from a stage career to Lloyds Banking Group
Growing up the daughter of a U.S. Naval Officer, I unsurprisingly spent a lot of time near (and in) the water so no one was shocked when I declared, at age 5, that I wanted to be a marine biologist. Spoiler alert: I am not writing this article for “Women in Marine Biology” magazine. As most children do, I shifted career aspirations several times and eventually decided I wanted to be an actress.
My mom had been a professional dancer who owned her own dance studio in Newport, Rhode Island, so she understood the draw of the spotlight. My father did not and suggested I go to university and get a “real degree” – so I did both. I went to a Liberal Arts University which was well known for both its International Studies programme but also for its Theatre, Speech and Dance offering.
Surprisingly, my dreams of performing on Broadway were not crushed by my parents, but by a successful play I was cast in. The show was due to run for two weeks and was extremely successful - so it ran for six. By the end of the run, I did not ever want to say the lines, do the dances or sing any of the songs ever again… and this was meant to be my dream career.
So, I did the sensible thing and decided to seek out a career in country music, in Nashville. My parents were so thrilled that they promised they would never give me a penny of support if I decided to throw my life away like that. My friends, on the other hand, were all incredibly excited for me and to celebrate, my housemate went to grab a bottle of fizz. When she came back she asked if I had listened to the answering machine… on which there was a message from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations offering me an internship I had forgotten I had applied for.
My dad offered to carry me to New York if needs be and just like that, I was off to the Big Apple to intern at the most prestigious place an International Studies major could work (and where I was able to sneak off to a few auditions and managed to get cast in a couple of commercials) then I got a call from a friend of our family who was looking for an executive assistant to come work in a 527 Organization to help bring Republicans and Democrats to the table for mutually beneficial bills and programmes. I loved the idea of building consensus across the Red and Blue constituents but quickly worked out that a lot of politics is controlled by lobbyists… and almost all lobbyists were lawyers.
Coincidently, I had a sorority sister who was working for Arnold & Porter as a Legal Assistant and she knew the International Trade Team were hiring and wanted someone with language skills – so I applied and after working there less than a year I felt I had found my vocation. I signed up for the last available LSAT (U.S. entrance exam into law school) for the 2001 entrance, studied via a CD-ROM for two weeks and managed to get a high enough score to get into a decent law school in DC. I focused on International Trade and my final year I was chosen to be a Presidential Management Fellow and took a role in the Department of Commerce International Trade Administration over a role in the anti-terrorism division in the FBI… every time I look at my CV, I think “it could have looked so much cooler.”
In 2004 I took the New York Bar and celebrated with a trip to Australia. I landed back in DC the morning I started my new job. My ID photo was less than glamorous and could have just said “jet-lagged” underneath it. I loved my role as an analyst where I sat on the 7th floor overlooking the White House to my right, the Lincoln Memorial directly ahead and the Washington monument when I looked left. I was making my way up the ladder when my Irish boyfriend asked me if I wanted to get married and move to London! Yes to married… not so much on the other half of the question…
I had been in DC for 6 years at this point, which was the longest I had lived anywhere consecutively. I had a job I loved, friends, family nearby and a decent amount of holiday for a U.S. worker which I could easily tack on to my work trips all over the globe. So I took a punt and said “I’ll apply for roles in London, if I get one I will go for two years… max.” That was 14 years ago. I got a job at Linklaters who sent me on secondment to Lloyds where I ultimately got an in-house role.
Move to London
My focus was Infrastructure & Energy and I enjoyed the work enough to stay but as I neared my 40th birthday I realised that law was not my passion- developing people and working in inclusion & diversity was. So, I got a masters and ILM7 qualification in executive coaching, a role working as the executive business support manager to the General Counsel for Commercial Banking and set up the Inclusion & Diversity offering for the Legal Department. After three years, a secondment in the Inclusion & Diversity team within in Business Area I supported came up – and that is where I am now.
I love working at Lloyds so I might be here in 5 years doing something I have not even contemplated but in my free time I am setting up a consultancy which will work with law firms to tackle the big issue of attracting and retaining diverse talent. The idea is to combine AI and coaching to do a deep dive into the subconscious of the associates to share with the firms what is going on under the surface – the information they want to know but are not getting from colleague engagement surveys, listening sessions or in direct feedback. It’s a work in progress but you can check out the concept at kljconsulting.co.uk and so the adventure continues…