CAREER CONVERSATIONS: Human Resources Leader, Joan G. Wilmer


For over 20 years, Joan G. Wilmer has been a trailblazer in corporate America. The accomplished human resources executive, entrepreneur, community advocate and public speaker has held a number of esteemed positions such as Assistant Vice President and Vice President of Human Resources at Citigroup and continues to break the glass ceiling in her industry. Her expertise in her field and commitment to representing women of color in a male-dominated business world has led to her receiving EBONY Magazine’s “Top 30 Under 30 Leaders” award in addition to the Baltimore Business Journal’s “Top 40 Under 40 Leaders” award.

PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT recently talked to the human resources leader about her two decades of career experience, the personal and professional lessons she’s learned along the way, and how she manages to incorporate healthy living into her busy life. Keep reading to find out what Wilmer had to say:

1. Can you share a brief description of your latest role and what you hope to accomplish?

I have 20 plus years of experience as a Senior Human Resources Executive and Entrepreneur. Currently, I am responsible for providing Human Resources leadership and strategic business partnering to multiple management divisions across a government entity. As a business leader and strategic partner, I assist various senior leaders with creating policies, practices, and initiatives that support a culture that reflects integrity and excellence across divisions and locations. I also focus on helping leaders to build workforce strategies that ensure, systematically, that we have “best in class” talent across the organization to meet our goals and to achieve a work environment that thrives off of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging; and, I help the organization plan for and navigate system-wide change management initiatives impacting our collective performance.

2. During your career, you've also led the HR teams for brands like Caesars Entertainment and Citigroup, what life and/or career lessons have you learned from holding these positions? 

Always be ready to take on the business challenges and problems that no one appears to be interested in addressing. Most often these opportunities are highly complex, require you to build depth in your know-how, and push you on your ability to assess problems and people.

Be flexible and open to endless possibilities. This is especially applicable to your career. Throughout my career, I have not interviewed much for career opportunities. I was always “tapped” according to my relationships, business network, and work reputation. It required me to move a lot, but the knowledge I have today at my age has opened so many doors for me. In response to these blessings, I make sure to provide the same opportunities to others so they too can grow professionally and personally.

3. Did you always want to pursue a career in human resources?

No, not at all! While pursuing my Bachelor in Social Work degree at Norfolk State University, I worked part-time at Nations Bank, which is now Bank of America. One day at work, I stepped onto the elevator and met a man wearing a gray suit and a tie featuring various colorful semi-trucks. He started speaking to me about my role at the organization, started quizzing me on company performance and goals, and asked me what I wanted to do professionally – longer term. Lucky for me, I always took a keen interest in organizations, read the Wall Street Journal faithfully — which I still do— and made a personal goal to learn about the various divisions at my work location. This acquired knowledge served me well. Once I finished answering his questions, he said to me, “My name is Hugh McCall, CEO of Nations Bank.” I had no idea who I was talking to, but I was prepared to speak about the organization I work for. On the spot, Mr. McCall offered me the opportunity to join their Management Associate Leadership Program and to assist their growing Personnel Department aka Human Resources.

4. What steps did you take to get to where you are today (i.e. education, internships, networking, etc.)? 

I have always been the only colored woman and/or woman in the room. To have sub-par knowledge on the topics at-hand or the business I represented was not allowed. I always had to prove to be very thorough and two steps ahead. So, I focused keenly on my business acumen, I took extra time to build natural relationships, and I worked many hours often volunteering outside of the scope of my role so I could be visible and learn. Also, staying in the mode of being a continuous learner has consistently helped me to grow and move in my career.

5. When it comes to landing your first job, can you share a few interview Do’s and Don’ts with our readers?

Time management is KEY! Arrive 10 minutes early to every meeting. Never arrive at any meeting late, regardless of who you are meeting with. Remember you are still being interviewed “on the job.”

Be responsive. When people call and/or email you, make sure to respond to them. Even if you need to research an answer, create a solution, or seek supervisory consultation, let people know you are focused on their request. Of course, follow through with excellence.

Get a mentor! Your mentor will help you to create your career “team.” Your career team should include (1) Sponsor, (2) Champion, and (3) Mentor.

Social media is private. Work is work, and personal relationships should never be confused with why you are employed at the organization. You are encouraged to build authentic and respectable relationships, but remember why you are there.

LinkedIn is your friend! It offers great information on the world at work and an opportunity to learn about changes in your professional field.

Give yourself time to grow! Stay in your new role at least 18-24 months.

Ask questions. It shows your intelligence. Produce results. Get your work done. Being nice or liked is not enough.

6. Many industries are still male-dominated. How can women maintain a presence in the boardroom among one's male counterparts?

Take time to learn the organization – its history, successes, challenges, and plans for the future. This knowledge is respected and positions women leaders for leadership opportunities. Organizations are now implementing increased mentoring programs that allow women to strengthen their business acumen, leadership exposure, and their ability to obtain solid operational knowledge.

Network! Network! Network! When people find confidence in your know-how, like/respect/trust you as a person, see that you are a natural part of the team...etc. they are more likely to select you for their leadership roles. This all drives the meaning of “fit.”

Women should show their commitment through actions, not words.

Women who have achieved higher ranks within an organization should make sure they are preparing to mentor and bring along the next female leader. Empowered women empower women.

7. For those wanting to pursue a career in human resources, what advice would you offer?

Research the profession. The Society for Human Resources Management is an excellent information source for Human Resources. There are a lot of perceptions about the field of Human Resources. This is a very complex professional track that requires a lot of hands-on experience in multiple disciplines, all while being a business leader.

Obtain a degree in Human Resources Management. Credentials are important to this field.

Seek opportunities that allow you to work across multiple disciplines of Human Resources. This will deepen your knowledge and value to an organization.

8. As an accomplished entrepreneur and female business leader, your daily schedule is bound to be jam-packed. How do you manage to maintain to incorporate fitness and proper nutrition in your busy life? 

I have a personal trainer. I work with her four days a week. She also helps me to think about nutrition. Because of my busy schedule, I need someone to help me establish and commit to a health regime. My trainer helps me to accomplish this and more. It is all about setting YOU as a priority.

9. What hearty and healthy meals are you constantly whipping up at home?

I love salads! I am trying to venture into creating my own salad dressings. Let’s say, I am still working on perfecting the recipe (smile). I also love pasta. So, I moderate how and when I eat pasta, and I increase my cardio exercise regimen to ensure I balance the intake of these carbs.

10. From barre classes to cycling sessions, there are many ways to break a sweat beside hitting the gym. Are there any workouts you want to try in the future?

I actually tried cycling class and really liked it. The seat on the bike felt horrible, so I am trying to learn of other ways to enjoy this exercise comfortably.

I really want to do kickboxing. It looks like a lot of fun.

11. What does PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT mean to you?

A movement to help girls and women to be their better self – inside and out.

SWEATLEBRITY REPORTER | Olivia Hancock is is currently a junior at Georgia State University. The 19-year-old has loved writing ever since she can remember and her passion for it has allowed her to hold the title of PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT Teen Reporter for five consecutive terms. In addition, Olivia has had the opportunity to work with Her Campus, Aeropostale and Nordstrom as an ambassador. Her writing has been published on xoNecole, 21 Ninety, Her Campus, One MusicFest, and The Life Currency. In the future, Olivia plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and pursue a professional career as a writer at a lifestyle publication.