March 08, 2018

Q&A: Kathryn E. Wengel from Johnson & Johnson on Leadership, Milestones and Making Change

This post is sponsored by Johnson & Johnson.

Happy International Women’s Day! One of my favourite days of the calendar year. A day I get to discover, champion and celebrate all the women in my personal life and the women who inspire me in my professional life too.

I’m thrilled to publish an exclusive interview with the brilliant Kathyrn E. Wengel, Worldwide Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer for Johnson & Johnson. I wanted to ask Kathyrn all about what Johnson & Johnson is doing around this year’s International Women’s Day on the theme #PressForProgress and how we can encourage more young women to take up STEM subjects and careers.

What’s your favourite thing about International Women’s Day – and why do you think it’s so important?

My favorite thing about International Women’s Day is the undeniable momentum it sparks around the impact women are making in the world. It’s inspiring to see so many powerful leaders, brands and organizations raising their voices in support of women. This year’s theme – #PressForProgress – hits close to home as it captures our commitment to women at Johnson & Johnson.

We’re focused on igniting the power of groundbreaking women leaders who are transforming healthcare. Women play so many roles to advance their communities – as mothers, scientists, technologists, innovators, caregivers, mentors, business leaders, community champions and the driving force behind the health of our future world. 

Johnson & Johnson has been championing women since its founding more than 130 years ago – a lot has improved in that time, in terms of women at work, but what are some of the crucial modern-day issues we can’t ignore?

We’re proud to press for progress within our own company and via our network of partnerships, which empower women and girls globally throughout our history. 

Half of the original employees in our company were women, and we still aspire to that vision today.

There are many milestones we’re working toward to address crucial, modern-day issues. One in particular is increasing representation of women in STEM2D fields both within our walls and outside, across all generations and ages. We’ve added an extra M and D to STEM – for Manufacturing and Design, because we believe these are two critical areas where women can have an increasing impact. Our goal is to have a 50% representation of women across STEM2D areas in Johnson & Johnson. We understand that achieving this starts with a commitment to work on the “leaky pipeline” that exists for women in these fields, starting from the time they are girls. In order to ignite their interest in these disciplines and keep them engaged we are focused on inspiring them at critical moments in their development.

Another issue is that women and girls face obstacles in their communities that impede their potential. We are helping to cultivate leadership in women globally through the mentoring partnerships we’ve forged with Vital Voices and the U.S. State Department.

The Vital Voices network is comprised of thousands of women leaders at the forefront of change and global progress from more than 184 countries.

Johnson & Johnson supports Vital Voices members to achieve sustainable and lasting impact, individually and as a network. We’ve seen our philanthropic commitments turn dreams into platforms and initiatives that have changed the world.

J&J is committed to reaching 1 million girls ages 5-18 by 2020 to inspire them to pursue education and careers in STEM2D fields. It’s such an important initiative. What made you realize this was something you wanted to get behind specifically?

We are very aware that representation of girls in the STEM graduate pool is not proceeding at a satisfactory pace. Many girls start out strong in math and science, but we see interest drop as they progress in school.

There’s research to support that girls and young women receive cues – both in conscious and subconscious ways – from parents, teachers and professors that track them away from STEM. 

In fact, data show a drop off at nearly every stage in their lives. The message they ultimately hear – at 5 or 50 – is that it is “too hard” to pursue their passion for science, technology, engineering and math fields.

A growing percent of jobs globally require knowledge in STEM, so helping nurture the STEM leaders of tomorrow is critical. Johnson & Johnson is committed to building a diverse WiSTEM2D community by mobilizing brilliant minds of all ages. The Youth focus area of our program is comprised of strategic partnerships with Junior Achievement, FHI 360, the Smithsonian, and others, to help young women and girls, ages 5-18. Our work in this space is aimed at sparking enchantment with technology through creative problem-solving and play in order to reach 1 million girls by 2020. 

Women hold 43% of senior management roles at Johnson & Johnson. Can you give a few examples of how much the growing number of senior women positively impacts the everyday running of the business?

Diversity & inclusion is an important part of how we do business, and that includes empowering women to lead at all levels. We believe women can be catalysts for creating healthier people, healthier communities and a healthier world.  The growing number of senior women at our company means that at every stage of their career, female employees have role models, mentors and leaders to ignite their path and potential.

We have a dedicated resource group – Women’s Leadership & Inclusion – which has played an important role for more than two decades in developing our female talent.

It connects and engages women across the company to develop their potential, build relationship capital, and drive an inclusive environment and culture. The group is committed to the development, advancement and retention of women leaders, and has a vision to “achieve gender equality across our businesses globally to enhance our competitive advantage and fuel the future of human health.”

Around the world, our leaders are bringing WiSTEM2D and WLI to life.  For example, in Ireland, J&J’s partnership with the University of Limerick focuses on the importance of peer networking and mentoring support. We have hosted various site visits where students can learn and engage with J&J professionals.

Furthermore, I am an Advisory Board member for AWESOME, a non-profit organization whose sole focus is advancing women’s leadership in Supply Chain across all industries, and to inspire and develop the next generation of leaders.

We at Johnson & Johnson also made a change in our talent acquisition strategy, eliminating biases in our job descriptions to encourage more female applicants. We recently started using Textio, an augmented writing platform, which scans job descriptions for phrases that could discourage potential applicants. As part of a pilot program, we found that many of our job descriptions skewed masculine, but in working with Textio to edit the descriptions, we saw a 9% increase in female applicants.   

What do you encourage others to do after reading this, to try and inspire more young girls to go into STEM careers?

I would encourage anyone reading this to find opportunities to mentor girls, and to bring STEM-related activities into and outside the classroom. Sometimes, all it takes is one spark to ignite for a girl to pursue STEM. The work we do at Johnson & Johnson shows just how powerful mentorship can be in fueling the path to success for girls and young women. There are so many ways to get involved as a volunteer in youth STEM programs, and I would encourage women working in STEM fields – and across all industries – to look for those opportunities, starting with their own companies and in their local communities.

Were you given any good advice as a young girl growing up that stuck with you?

I always knew from the time I was a small child that I wanted to do something with science and technology when I grew up. My father owned a data-processing business with IBM mainframes and I would go to work with him frequently. My mother was an accountant. Ironically, neither of them had STEM degrees but found their passion in STEM-related roles.

From early on, I was encouraged to embrace my passion for math and science and let it drive me forward. For whatever reason, I was fortunate that the statistics didn’t bother me.  I went to university at a school that had existed for 240 years but only allowed women in the 20 years before I entered.  In the engineering school at the time, the percentage of women was something like ~20%, if I remember correctly. 

While sometimes it was a long walk to find a ladies restroom in the engineering building, it did prepare me well to work in disciplines and industries amidst lots of male colleagues. 

However, what has shocked me and many of my female colleagues today is that the graduation rates of women in STEM fields is largely the same as it was when we graduated 30 years ago!   That really inspires many of us to get out there and help make a difference for the next generation.   

Diversity is something to be proud of – I’ve worked hard to harness diversity to build my network, my career and most important, to inspire other women to press for progress. 

In every managerial role I have had at J&J, I have worked hard to build a team more diverse than when I came in – and I can tell you, those team over perform versus non-diverse teams.  In addition, it always keeps life interesting with fresh perspectives. While it may require changing your recruiting approach, or looking in adjacencies, it absolutely can be done and is incumbent on all of us to take action. Every single hire matters.

Leave a Reply

My New Book

The world of work is changing - so how do you keep up?
You have the ability to make money on our own terms, when and where you want - but where do you start?

If you've been itching to convert your craft into a career, or your side-hustle into a start up, then The Multi-Hyphen Method is for you.