In less than three years with OPTrust, Tamara Johnson has risen from manager to director to associate general counsel for labor relations and chief negotiator for collective bargaining.

An innovator, Johnson co-created an expedited mediation and arbitration process, which allowed OPTrust to resolve 29 longstanding grievances in only six days of hearings—an incredible savings of time and resources for all parties. Her work resulted in the firm’s legal department winning its first award—an Innovation Award from Canadian Lawyer magazine.

Being chief negotiator for collective bargaining is a point of pride,” relates Johnson. “I am very proud of this because I had never before sat across the table from a woman or a person of color during my career. I was determined to take my place at the table. To be a first-generation Canadian, black woman, entrusted with that responsibility is a tremendous accomplishment. My hope is that I can inspire other women of color to take this path.”

For Johnson, success is believing in herself. “I applied for jobs I wanted; even if I may not have had all the qualifications required. Once I got the job, I worked exceptionally hard to show that the company had made the right decision in investing in me,” she says. “I was always clear about my career aspirations. I would work on assignments that were outside my scope—what I refer to as ‘stretch’ assignments. This gave me the ability to work with new people and show my value to the organization.”

“I didn’t have a mentor when I started law school, and I recognized that it put me at a disadvantage. Once I secured a mentor, I saw the value the relationship offered. Since then, I have been very committed to mentoring women. I use mentoring as a vehicle to support women in their careers and share the successes and challenges I’ve experienced throughout my career,” Johnson concludes.