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Meet 5 Change Agents Who Are Helping Advance Gender Balance

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Meet 5 Change Agents Who Are Helping Advance Gender Balance

​One way we can all help improve the trajectory of health for humanity? Bridge the gender gap so more women can shine, innovate and put their mark on the world. Women like these Johnson & Johnson movers and shakers.

The phrases “work/life balance” and “gender equality” tend to get tossed around a lot these days—and for many women, they can often feel like insurmountable goals.

Which is where these admirable women come in.

From launching an online support forum for new parents to spearheading a national symposium aimed at advancing female surgeons in the U.S., these Johnson & Johnson women are at the helm of building a more inclusive and work/life-balanced world through visionary programs they've helped bring to life.

In homage to this year's International Women's Day theme, #BalanceforBetter, we share their inspiring stories.

“I created a J&J Families forum to support parents and parents-to-be” - Alison Whitmore, Associate Customer Development Manager, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products

When Alison Whitmore found out she was pregnant with her first child in 2011, she had a ton of questions—including how to tell her boss she’d be going on maternity leave—but she didn’t feel comfortable having such personal conversations with her co-workers.

“I was feeling a little alone and thought: Wouldn’t it be great if there was some kind of forum—a private place where I could get my questions answered by other Johnson & Johnson employees navigating this same work culture and who have access to the same benefits? ” she recalls.

Whitmore with Alex and Annabel

Three years after her daughter, Annabel, was born, Whitmore gave birth to her son, Alex, and around this time the company implemented an extended maternity and paternity leave. “It’s an amazing benefit, but I had a lot of questions about how people were using it,” she says. Once again, she found herself wishing there was a resource in place.

So she decided to create it herself.

Whitmore began networking within the company and through the Johnson & Johnson Women’s Leadership & Inclusion (WLI) Employee Resource Group, she was eventually put in touch with colleagues at BabyCenter®, a Johnson & Johnson company. "It is the forum for parents, so it made a lot of sense to us to create a private company group within BabyCenter,” she says.

Several BabyCenter employees and WLI members—all moms who loved Whitmore’s idea—volunteered their time to help her create the J&J Families group, a private, anonymous forum for company employees who are trying to conceive or adopt, expecting, new to parenting or just interested in sharing or requesting tips from colleagues in the same life stage.

Since launching in September 2018, it has become what Whitmore once dreamed of: a one-stop destination for everything from links to benefits information to an online community where you can get answers to all kinds of pregnancy and parenting questions.

“We were very specific about calling it J&J Families, not J&J Moms, so we can also help dads managing paternity leave benefits and adjusting to life as working fathers,” Whitmore adds. “Johnson & Johnson is all about balance—not only work/life balance, but also treating male and female employees equally—so we really wanted to make sure everyone felt like this was a space that could support them through this big life transition.”

“I launched 'Through ♥ (Love), We Act' to help attract diverse talent looking to return to the workforce in Japan” -Eunice Masako Quinn, Head of HR, Supply Chain

In her role, Eunice Masako Quinn faced a two-part challenge: improving employee engagement, while also innovating the way her divison retained and attracted talent—especially female talent.

So Quinn launched an internal project called #Bringherback, which focused on offering flexible work arrangements to women who'd left the workforce and wanted to return.

But she quickly realized that keeping the focus strictly on women was limiting—and not very inclusive. “Japan is an aging society, and more and more women and men are experiencing the pressure of balancing careers with taking care of elderly parents,” she says. “It’s something that’s traditionally expected of children.”

To help create an inclusive workplace where everyone feels like they belong, Quinn decided to expand #Bringherback to include men, too, and renamed the initiative “Through ♥ (Love), We Act.”

Through this program, the team tapped business sector representatives, employee resource groups, role models who were already leveraging the flexible work arrangements and the HR department to reach out to candidates who have been on leave or out of work for a while and are now wishing to return.

“Some left their jobs to be mothers. Others left to try to build their own company," Quinn says. "At Johnson & Johnson, we see these candidates as untapped resources, and we are committed to taking a proactive approach to bring their talent back to us, helping us further develop our culture of inclusion.”

“I co-created the Women in Surgery Symposium to help advance women in academic surgery” -Kate Masschelein, Worldwide President for Energy, Medical Devices

A few years ago, at the Association of Women Surgeons, Kate Masschelein met Anne C. Mosenthal, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgery at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and an idea was born.

Dr. Mosenthal is one of just a handful of women who are female chairs of departments of surgery in the United States and Canada—and out of the approximately 160,000 surgeons in the U.S., a mere 19% are female.

"At Johnson & Johnson, we are fortunate to have many employee resource groups, like the WLI, to help employees advance in their careers," Masschelein says. “I shared with Dr. Mosenthal that through my work with WLI, it seemed that women in business and female surgeons had similar challenges in the workplace, and perhaps by partnering with WLI, there was an opportunity to help support young female surgeons, too. So we put our heads together and created the Women in Surgery Symposium."

The first symposium in 2017 was dedicated to supporting female surgeons by providing a forum to discuss the challenges they face, as well as providing opportunities for mentorship.

"Leading through change" was the theme. “It was inspiring to see women from across the country and across different surgical specialties listening to each other talk about working their way up through the ranks, and how to set yourself up for promotion,” Masschelein says. Johnson & Johnson speakers joined the event, and WLI sponsor Sandra Humbles, VP for Global Education Solutions in Medical Devices, moderated one of the sessions.

Masschelein with Dr. Mosenthal

In fact, the symposium was so inspiring to all of the participants that Masschelein and Dr. Mosenthal decided to open it up to more participants in 2018—and nearly doubled the number of attendees.

“One of the mentees stood up and shared how appreciative she was for the opportunity to see that she’s not alone—that her challenges are everyone’s challenges,” Masschelein says. “I still think of that moment and it inspires me because it speaks to the fact that, as women—no matter what field we’re in—we’re often faced with the same challenges. The more we see this as an opportunity to help each other, the better.”

“I’m helping women in STEM return to the workforce through our Re-Ignite program” -Liz Markus, Director of the Re-Ignite Program, Johnson & Johnson

For Liz Markus, directing Johnson & Johnson's Re-Ignite program—a cross-company effort to bring individuals back into careers in science, technology, engineering, math, manufacturing and design (STEM2D) after exiting the workforce—feels deeply personal.

"My husband is a stay-at-home dad, which means I haven’t had to take an extended break from my career,” she says. “But my sister is a stay-at-home mom who will want to go back to work. And after my mother got divorced, she had to go back to work after years of staying home. 

It’s a bold move to step out of the workforce, and we need to acknowledge that for those who do, it may have been a way to find more balance in their lives."

Think of the program as a four-month "returnship" at Johnson & Johnson for experienced STEM2D female and male professionals, Markus explains, including mentoring from company leaders. Once those four months are up, participants have the opportunity to be offered full-time employment. 

“The Re-Ignite program is a way for Johnson & Johnson to act on—not just talk about—our goal of balance in the workplace.”

Since the program's pilot in 2017, Re-Ignite has had five female returnees—all engineers who took career breaks varying in length from two to 14 years. “What I love about this program is that it allows people to make choices,” Markus says. “After all, life isn’t linear. Your career shouldn’t have to be, either.”

“I helped launch a mentoring program in Singapore, so employees can pay it forward” -Seina Lee, PharmD, M.S., IBD DAS Commercial Strategy Lead, Immunology, Janssen Asia Pacific

To celebrate International Women’s Day in 2018, Seina Lee led the charge on creating a cross-sector, cross-function mentoring program for Singapore-based employees.

"The objective of the six-month program is to foster professional growth of company talent through leadership, education and networking,” Lee says. “To be inclusive, our program caters to all employees—irrespective of gender—because empowerment requires a significant contribution not just from women, but also from male allies.”

[Luly de Samper, head of Johnson & Johnson's Women’s Leadership & Inclusion initiative in Latin America] Meet a Woman Who’s on a Mission to Break Down Gender Barriers in Latin America

This year, the program has enrolled more than 40 mentors and 50 mentees from diverse backgrounds and with different levels of experience. Each of the four committee members personally looks after eight to 10 mentor/mentee pairs to provide tips and advice.

The hope: cultivate an environment of continuous learning and development for everyone in the program.

Lee speaking at The United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C., in 2016

One mentor recently emailed Lee to share how fulfilling her role has been, and how much she has seen her mentee's confidence grow. "She told her mentee not to underestimate the impact her newfound leadership skills will have on others," Lee says.

For Lee, it’s the epitome of a quote she loves: “Empowered women empower women.”

“To me, strong women like my mom and fearless girls like my daughter inspire me to be awesome, do good and empower other women," she says. "I believe that when I enable others around me, they can make a positive influence beyond what I can do alone."

The original article was published here.

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