7 Women Who Are Helping to Change the World for Women
On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting inspiring Johnson & Johnson employees who work year-round to improve the health, safety and trajectory of women worldwide.
Each March, people around the world commemorate International Women’s Day to spotlight the need for a more inclusive, gender-equal world—a goal Johnson & Johnson supports wholeheartedly as part of its mission to ignite the power of women to create a healthier tomorrow.
Women like these employees, who are committed to helping other women advance and thrive—whether that means helping to reduce HIV/AIDS infections in vulnerable populations, inspiring more girls to pursue careers in science or mentoring small business owners to realize their true potential.
Empowering Women Through Technology—and Community
Alice Lin Fabiano, Director, Global Community Impact
“Women around the world make 80% of family healthcare decisions, but they are still disadvantaged in many ways. Technology can empower women to make informed choices about their health and the health of their families. So Johnson & Johnson is helping to develop tech programs that can equalize their access to crucial health information—programs like mMitra, which delivers mobile voice messages to pregnant women and new moms in India.
A few years ago, I met a young, newly pregnant woman in Mumbai. She didn’t speak the local language and was from a rural, conservative family, so she wasn’t allowed to go outside without a chaperone.
Although she had no access to the outside world, including health information and doctor’s visits, she did have a mobile phone. So twice a week, from pregnancy through to the third year of her baby’s life, mMitra sent her voice messages in her native dialect offering encouraging advice about everything from prenatal nutrition to infant care.
Tostan is another Johnson & Johnson partnership that I’m passionate about: The nonprofit aims to end female genital mutilation (FGM) through grassroots efforts to gain the trust of the community and help change people’s mindsets.
The founder of Tostan told me that, much like foot binding in China, cutting can end with a single generation. But it can’t be just one village advocating for it. The movement has to be across the board in a region, with all mothers saying they will not cut their daughters.
Her words hit me like a truck. My grandmother was from one of the last generations of women in China to have bound feet. In my mother’s generation, no one has bound feet. My mom was the first educated woman in her family, and she taught my sister and me to dream big and hard.
These roots drive the work I do: Dedicated change-makers in, for and by the community can create a better place for women.”
Inspiring a Passion for Science in Girls
Eleanor Small, Product Development Senior Scientist, Oral Care
“I studied chemical engineering at Johns Hopkins, and only three students in our class of 25 were women. That floors me.
So as soon as I found out about Johnson & Johnson Consumer’s Women in Science & Engineering program, which focuses on expanding interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics among young women (especially those in underserved demographics), I jumped right in.
Twice a year, we organize a free exploration day in partnership with the Girl Scouts. Nearly 100 middle-school girls rotate through activities like making your own facial cleanser and building a working speaker from materials like paper plates, magnets and masking tape.
I would not be where I am today if it were not for some amazing teachers—from my elementary school teacher, who had us build a structure out of pins and plastic straws to see how much weight it could hold, to my high school physics professor, who taught us about gravity by shooting a BB gun at a booby trap that dropped a stuffed monkey from the ceiling.
Since I can’t pay those teachers back, I want to pay it forward. Both on a personal level and as a company, we have an obligation to give to our community. If we are to change the gender dichotomy and have a positive impact on the future, we must set an example from the ground up.”
Working to Reduce HIV/AIDS Infections in Young Women
Alma Scott, Head, Africa Operations and Partnerships, Global Public Health
“Although the incidence of HIV/AIDS is decreasing in most populations, it is on the rise for females between the ages of 12 and 24 in sub-Saharan Africa.
So in 2015, Johnson & Johnson partnered with PEPFAR (the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), Girl Effect and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch DREAMS, a $385 million program to reduce HIV infection in young women by 40% in 10 African countries.
As part of this partnership, we worked with PEPFAR to utilize our consumer insights capabilities to help them understand how to reach adolescents and young women with messages that resonate.
For instance, we conducted two-day workshops designed to create a safe space for women and give them a platform to share their experiences and make new friends.
We also participated in the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, which put a call out for novel solutions to reduce HIV infections in this population. We funded three winners, including a program that provides sexual health education and mentoring for deaf and disabled women.
I come from a female-dominated family with a very strong structure, so to see young girls and women not being valued, being forced out of school, or making risky decisions with their bodies breaks my heart. I’m grateful to be in a position to help make a difference in their lives.”
Mentoring Up-and-Coming Women Business Owners
Bev Jennings, Head, Office of Global Supplier Diversity & Inclusion
“Our team makes introductions and provides informal guidance to women-owned businesses in our supplier base—R&D, business services, marketing and supply chain—and to those who are trying to get into our base.
For example, if a business wants to engage with Johnson & Johnson, but hits a roadblock, I’ll coach them on the best approach to make inroads in the future. I often also connect them to other corporations’ supplier diversity leaders.
Supplier diversity reflects the diversity of the customers who purchase our products—women make 80% of purchasing decisions, so their insights matter. Because we are inclusive of women and minorities, they bring their lens and insights to the business, which makes a difference at the table. And I have the privilege to be able to touch their lives in a deep, purposeful way every day.
Recently, we had a supplier who was facing challenges onboarding with us. We helped them navigate the hurdles by setting milestones for them to hit, pairing them with another woman-owned business for mentoring and offering support. I saw the owner the other day and she was beaming with excitement about the progress her company is now making. I could hear the pride in her voice.
Although our Supplier Diversity program started in 1998, and we’ve had a steady increase of women-owned businesses since its launch, we are not resting on our laurels. We just held a women’s leadership initiative, and kicked off a new mentorship program. We intend to keep raising the bar.”
Fighting to Lower Gestational Diabetes Rates
Gabriele Ronnett, Gestational Diabetes Mellitus Venture Leader, Disease Interception Accelerator, Janssen Research & Development, LLC
“Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) is a condition in which women experience heightened blood glucose levels for the first time in pregnancy. It can lead to an increased risk of cesarean sections and birth injuries. In India alone, it impacts 40% of pregnancies that result in a live birth.
It also infringes upon long-term health: 50% of women with GDM go on to develop type 2 diabetes, and their offspring have an elevated risk of developing diabetes. So our goal is to shift the healthcare paradigm from diagnosis and treatment to prediction and pre-emption.
At present, women who test positive are told to exercise and eat healthfully, which may be difficult if they’re overwhelmed or not feeling great. Over 50% of women with GDM don’t reach their goals of controlling their blood sugar.
So we are exploring non-pharmaceutical detection methods that may be less intrusive and more accurate than the current test, which is given at around 26 weeks of pregnancy. We are also working to identify potential biomarkers to diagnose GDM risk earlier through simple, non-invasive tests. Since some of the greatest incidences of GDM are in rural areas, we’re interested in making tests more accessible in such communities, so women need not travel to a hospital or clinic to be diagnosed.
To me, GDM is one of the most important health issues because of the tremendous worldwide increase in diabetes year over year. If we can intercept it earlier, we can help change the course of people’s lives and make a significant impact on reducing the rate of diabetes.”
Supporting Women Re-entering the Workforce
Stephanie Muir, Vice President of R&D for Robotics, Ethicon
“When I returned to Ethicon a couple of years ago, I became a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Through SWE, I stumbled upon a pilot program for helping STEM professionals who’ve taken time off from their careers to re-enter the workforce. A consortium of corporations participate and provide paid internships to people who want to ease back into corporate culture.
I immediately pursued becoming a member of the consortium, which led to a Johnson & Johnson program called Re-Ignite, which is launching in April as a pilot program at Ethicon in Cincinnati. We had been looking at how to increase the number of women with experience in science and engineering at the company. As an innovator, I know that understanding what customers need and value is critical. I want the face of our technical teams to reflect our customers, including women, to ensure we are innovating for them.
Although Johnson & Johnson offers great benefits and support, including family leave and the ability to go part-time in a lot of roles, we still see women opting out of their technical jobs to care for children or other family members.
Another challenge is the pipeline. Studies by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration show that there are about 2.5 million women in the U.S. with STEM degrees. Over 200,000 of those women are engineers who’ve left the workforce. When those women are willing to re-enter the workforce, it can prove difficult.
So Re-Ignite is an opportunity for us to hire from a tremendous untapped talent pool and provide women with the skills and opportunities to have long-term careers at Johnson & Johnson.”
Bringing the Best Minds Together to Combat Zika
Fernanda Pimentel, Medical Affairs and Clinical Research Director, Latin America
“From October 2015 to August 2016, the Zika virus—which is spread mostly by mosquitos, and can be passed from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby—caused 1,749 cases of a birth defect known as microcephaly. Subsequently, the World Health Organization declared Zika to be a public health emergency.
So Johnson & Johnson developed a strategy to tackle the crisis and mitigate the impact of the virus among pregnant women, babies and their families, especially in areas most affected by the outbreak. The company mobilized many institutions—including the Brazilian government, UNICEF and various NGOs and medical societies—to work together to achieve this common objective.
For example, we organized a forum for scientific leaders to talk about diagnosis, treatment and disease management. Based on this information, we developed materials that were disseminated to the scientific community; health professionals, so they could be better educated about how to support infected pregnant women; and those whose babies have Zika-related birth defects.
In addition, we’ve created a unique public-private partnership with the Brazilian government that has trained more than 7,000 healthcare workers in six Brazilian cities where Zika has had a devastating impact.
When I see a mother or baby affected by Zika, I feel it is my calling to do something to improve their lives. Our initiatives are already making a difference in Brazil, and I believe that if we do a great job of controlling the disease here, we can set a good example for countries around the world.”