How J&J employees are activating the next generation of women in health
Education is one of the most powerful tools to change lives. This world view was proudly passed on to me by my immigrant parents. As a child, my parents taught me that education was the key to breaking down any barriers the world put in front of me. With so many professions dominated by men, I learned that education would equip me with the skills and confidence to choose any career path I wanted to regardless of whether or not I saw people who looked like me in those jobs. Along with an education came the responsibility to choose a path that would lead me to help others.
The gaps in healthcare laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic have made it ever more clear how desperately we need more professionals educated in ways to help others, in particular in healthcare. Well before the start of the COVID pandemic, the World Health Organization already predicted a shortage of 18 million health workers globally. One way to close this frighteningly large gap is to inspire upcoming generations to join the profession and equip them with the skills and support network to make it happen.
Addressing the shortage of health workers is a top priority for Johnson & Johnson (J&J). One of the most inspiring ways we do this is through our WiSTEM2D (Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing, and Design) program dedicated to inspiring girls and women to pursue STEM professions. Why the focus on girls and women? Because women and girls represent a largely untapped pool of STEM talent.
- In the US, 74% of middle school girls are interested in STEM but less than 1% end up pursuing it in college1.
- In the US, most children show unconscious bias by associating boys with math as early as the first grade2.
- Globally, 4.7% of girls expect to have a career in engineering or computing versus 18% of boys. Nearly 58 million children are not enrolled in primary school, of which more than 50% are girls and nearly 75% live in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia3.
WiSTEM2D cultivates girls’ interests in STEM2D at an early age and prepares them to pursue higher education and careers in related fields. We reach girls by working hand in hand with global NGO partners, including Junior Achievement Worldwide, Smithsonian Science Education Center, FHI 360 and Girl Scouts, as well as by encouraging employees to share their STEM expertise. When we began our WiSTEM2D journey in 2015, we set out to reach 1 million girls by 2020. With the help of over 5,200 J&J employee volunteers, we have shattered that milestone, reaching more than 6 million girls through our various WiSTEM2D activities.
Even better yet, we know that our WiSTEM2D model works. For example, data shows that engaging secondary school aged youth with projects can develop their skills and interest in STEM careers4. We also know that mentoring and seeing other females in STEM2D roles makes an impact. Peer mentoring for female engineering students with female mentors resulted in a 100% retention of the girls in the program5.
One of the best gifts my parents passed on to me through education, was a thirst for knowledge. As one of the strategic leads for WiSTEM2D, I have the pleasure of helping our employees pass on this spark to millions of girls across the world in an effort to nurture the next generation of health leaders. In celebration of World Children’s Day on November 20th, I’m excited to share with you seven examples of how J&J employees (including myself!) are using their talent to open a world of possibilities for girls in STEM.
1. STEM2D Virtual Summer Camp
This summer, when our worlds no longer looked the same as they would have in any given year with summer camps, vacations and outdoor activities, with the help of FHI 360, I led a series of WiSTEM2D activities as part of a virtual summer camp. The virtual summer camp was for children 7-12 years old that was organized by a local community center in New Brunswick, NJ, New Brunswick Islamic Center . Over the course of four weeks, I led weekly sessions on various STEM topics including “Natural Disasters: Exploring Your Environment,” “Volcanoes – Gas: Blow It Up,” “Volcanoes – Lava: Lava Lamps,” “Mud Slide: Quicksand” and “Earthquakes: Building Structures.”
To keep the kids engaged and give them hands-on experience, each week a volunteer delivered to the kids a “STEM in a bag” kit including all the materials needed to conduct the experiment. The children felt like scientists as they followed my demonstration online and 9replicated it in their own space step by step.
These fun activities created an opening to teach the kids about important STEM2D concepts like chemical reaction, force, engineering, design, density, and physics, as well as how knowledge of these concepts can translate into careers and skills for day-to-day life.
It helped me learn STEM in a fun and exciting way. I loved doing the experiments from my home while all my friends were doing the same. I looked forward to getting the materials at home.
2. STEM2D @ Home: Girl’s Shelter
In October, Fernanda Oloño (GOLD Associate Engineer) joined a team of J&J 12 employees leading a series of virtual STEM2D @ HOME events for the Casa hogar de amor y superacion girls’ shelter in Juarez, Mexico. Many of the girls came from homes with limited access to the internet, making it difficult for them to regularly access STEM2D educational materials.
“Exposing girls to STEM2D topics allows us to build the foundation of the next generation of female health leaders. I have no doubt that by empowering girls and women with STEM2D skills we are creating limitless opportunities to change their lives and the trajectory of health for humanity.
Using Zoom, J&J volunteers introduced 36 girls ages 5-18 years old to a variety of STEM2D topics through fun activities including “Up Gas, Elephant Toothpaste, “Potato Clock,” and “Solar Rover.” The Potato Clock activity taught the girls to power a digital clock by using only a potato and items like wires, copper and zinc strips, and transparent tapes.
I would have never figured out how these potatoes could create energy for this clock on my own! I thought the experiment would never work, but it did!
3. Build Your Own Touch Screen Stylus
In July, Angela Randall, a J&J Patent Paralegal for J&J Consumer Law Department, joined a group of J&J employees in facilitating a “Build Your Own Touch Screen Stylus” workshop in collaboration with Girls, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to empowering and inspiring girls and young women. A group of 30 rising 9th grade girls, ages 13-14 years old, learned how to use everyday materials like cotton swabs, straws and pipe cleaners to create a stylus.
What type of profession would need a stylus pen? How would you change variables of the stylus pen to make it more functional? Angela guided the girls through a conversation about how the skills from this activity might be applied in a career and the value of seeking out role models in these areas.
I was delighted to see many of the girls actively participate in our conversation and show such curiosity in becoming an engineer or scientist.
The girls also had the chance to learn about the careers of other J&J employees including chemical engineers, pharmacists, and biologists.
4. STEM2D Live Series: “Ouch! I Need a Band Aid”
Mónica Solana Elizondo, Senior Manager, Regional Regulatory Affairs Latin America, teamed up with her daughter to lead a virtual session called “Ouch! I Need a Band Aid” as part of a STEM2D Live Series led by Smithsonian Science Education Center, from her home in Costa Rica. The engineering design activity encouraged students to construct and package an adhesive bandage for a specific injury using everyday materials like tape, toilet paper, and paper towels. In addition to measuring, problem-solving, decision-making and creativity, students had to practice interpersonal skills needed in STEM2D careers such as presenting ideas, negotiating, organizing and working as a collaborative team.
I find that many women are caregivers by nature. However, historically they haven’t been given many opportunities to contribute in healthcare and many other industries. Through activities like this one, I hope to contribute my skills in inspiring the next generation of female healthcare workers so they feel safe and confident in their natural abilities to address global health problems.
Mónica purposefully co-led the session with her young daughter to serve as a peer role model for the other girls participating in the activity.
The activity taught me the importance of trial and error since we had to experiment with several options before arriving at the best choice for the design we wanted to make. I had fun doing this experiment with my mom at home and I hope other girls enjoyed it too.
5. STEM2D Live Series: A Career in STEM
In late March, when J&J employees realized they would not be interacting directly with youth due to social distancing, Somi Kim, Senior Director of Healthcare Solutions, and her team worked with WiSTEM2D partners to reimagine how to support remote learning. The WiSTEM2D team quickly mobilized to organize resources for parents, educators and students, including four live stream programs.
In one live stream session hosted by JA (Junior Achievement) Worldwide, a non-profit that equips young people with the employment and entrepreneurship skills to succeed, two students interviewed Somi about diversity in STEM and design, including what design means in the context of healthcare, and why it matters. The students, twin sisters Nishitha and Nikhitha Khasnavis, also shared in the interview that their participation in a WiSTEM2D event three years ago inspired them so much they were now planning to pursue STEM2D degrees in college.
All my friends who viewed the live mentioned that it was a very captivating and interesting session!
While the pandemic has kept us apart, I’m so happy we’ve been able to adjust and continue with WiSTEM2D’s mission to spark girls’ and young women’s excitement in technology through creative problem-solving and play. My interview was just a small example of how WiSTEM2D programs deliver experiential learning opportunities that are age-appropriate and designed to complement classroom learning.
In March, Angela Shenton (Senior Director Procurement) and Gloria Candelario Hossri (IT Product Line Owner), also participated in a STEM2D Live series titled “Sparking Interest in STEM2D Careers for Young Girls” in partnership with FHI 360. In addition to our WiSTEM2D partner, FHI 360 has also been a partner in J&J’s Bridge to Employment (BTE) program for over 25 years. The BTE program provides mentorship and prepares young high school students with the skills and support network to reach their full potential by pursuing a higher education. To bridge the two programs, BTE students were involved in this STEM2D session to have a conversation around STEM2D careers and deepen the connection of mentorship.
There’s a leaky pipeline6. Girls and women steer away from STEM2D careers as they face environmental barriers. They lack mentors and role models to support interest and finally there are social cues discouraging pursuit of STEM.
‘Bridge to Employment’ helped me to create a more structured environment in high school and to learn about STEM opportunities and careers.
6. Assembling Your Career in STEM
In Mexico, a group of 23 Janssen Pharmaceuticals volunteers also teamed up with Junior Achievement Mexico for a “Ensamblando tu Carrera” (Assembling Your Career) session to introduce girls to various STEM careers. An excited cohort of 109 female students joined the virtual session to learn from the J&J volunteers about a wide range of STEM careers, gain tips on how to choose a career path, and share their own career aspirations.
It was an incredible experience. The [J&J volunteers] who were with us encouraged us so much and completely changed my way of thinking.
I strongly believe that women care most about the health of their communities and it’s important to foster that care and translate it into a career. It was a privilege to share my own experiences to encourage young women to have the confidence to pursue careers in STEM and show the world what capable leaders they are.
7. #CreatingWonderJobs Virtual Workshop
Sanjeev Verma (FM Transformation Director, APAC) and Mercy “Yeyet” Soriano (Corporate Business Technology Solution Lead for HR & Payroll, APAC) came together to host J&J Singapore’s first ever #CreatingWonderJobs virtual workshop. The workshop was created to introduce STEM careers to the children of J&J employees. Together, our employees’ children navigated through a fictional pandemic scenario and brainstormed the different careers or ‘superheroes’ they would summon throughout the story. The activity opened their minds as they identified unique career opportunities in STEM and built a vision for their future dream jobs, while having fun.
My daughter told me she thoroughly enjoyed the interactive session and was amazed at the developments happening in STEM spaces. She said she was particularly intrigued by the concept of telemedicine and would delve deeper into it.
Use Your Talent to Inspire the Next Generation
Now that you’ve learned how our employees are using their talent for good to shape the next generation of women in healthcare, it’s time for you to decide how you can do the same. As adults, we have the honor and responsibility to gain knowledge, preserve it, put into practice and finally to spread it. Don’t let the pandemic stand in your way as digital opportunities offer many ways to still connect with children. If you need additional inspiration, visit our STEM2D website for more ideas. Use World Children’s Day as your time to reflect on how you’ll pass your valuable knowledge on to the next generation. Let me know how it goes!
1 Hill, C., Cobett, C., & St. Rose, A. (2010). Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. (Publication). Washington, DC: American Association of University W
2 UNESCO (2017), Cracking the Code: Girls and Women’s Education in STEM
3 UNESCO (2017), Cracking the Code: Girls and Women’s Education in STEM
4 Danner, O. et. Al, Hospital-based, multidisciplinary, youth mentoring and medical exposure program positively influences and reinforces health care career choice: “The Reach One Each One Program early experience”. American Journal of Surgery, 213(4), 611–616. doi:10.1016/j.amjsurg.2016.12.002
5 Dennehy, T. & Dasgupta N. (2016) Female Peer Mentors early in college increases Women’s Positive Academic Experiences and Retention in Engineering, (Publication) Washington DC: National Academies of Sciences
6 Hill, C., Cobett, C., & St. Rose, A. (2010). Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. (Publication). Washington, DC: American Association of University Women.