When I was going to school at Columbia University in the late 1970s, I was the only woman in every single one of my engineering classes. That feeling of being alone on a desert island—of wondering why I was there and why other female students weren’t—led to some serious soul-searching and moments of doubt.
But they were always pushed down by my lifelong love of solving science, math and engineering problems. I knew this is where I belonged, and I wasn’t going to be detoured just because all the other desks were occupied by a man.
Today, things are getting better in that regard. In the EU, more than 40% of all higher education graduates in science, mathematics and computing are women. And in the U.S., women represent 20% of computer science graduates, and 12% of college graduates with a degree in science overall.
Progress, to be sure. But from my perspective, it’s not nearly enough.
Supporting Women in STEM Worldwide
That’s why I’m so excited to be the sponsor of the University Pillar of Johnson & Johnson’s Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing and Design initiative (WiSTEM2D)—and to be part of the launch of our new Graduate Scholars Program.
Through WiSTEM2D, we’re giving young girls, female college students and professional women the tools, resources and opportunities they need to excel in the areas of STEM2D and, potentially, to become catalysts for creating healthier people, healthier communities and a healthier world.
This isn’t Johnson & Johnson simply doing good for good’s sake—it’s a business imperative. Early in my career, I thought championing women was a fair and equitable thing to do. But the more I started managing people and leading teams, I saw very clearly that diverse teams drive increased levels of innovation and creativity, and that we will only reach the high level of success we set for the company if we ignite the spark inside of girls and women to stay on the STEM2D track.
The University Pillar of WiSTEM2D is key to building this pipeline. Working with leading academic institutions in Japan, Brazil, Ireland and the U.S., we’re increasing the number of women enrolling in and graduating with STEM2D programs and degrees. Our goal is to build a pool of well-qualified women who can come into Johnson & Johnson and accelerate innovation efforts, especially in the big data and artificial intelligence area that is going to revolutionize and disrupt the healthcare industry and society during the next decade.
But it doesn’t stop there. We want to make a difference beyond the boundaries of our company and build a program that benefits society as a whole.
Our Graduate Scholars Program is an exciting new addition to this vision. Putting our money where our mouths—and minds—are, Johnson & Johnson is making a multi-million dollar investment in women pursuing their Ph.D. degrees and academic careers in STEM2D fields by partnering with schools around the world to fund scholarships and programs. In addition, we will establish a lecture series featuring the scholars to provide visibility for their research and encourage opportunities for collaborations with company colleagues.
Mentoring the Next Generation of STEM Leaders
I feel like I’m in the exact right place, at the exact right time, to sponsor this University Pillar and new Graduate Scholars Program. Academia is my second home. My husband is a professor, plus, I’m on the Advisory Board of the Columbia School of Engineering. I'm a member of the Data and Society Council, which is led by University President Lee Bollinger and includes Columbia faculty members representing multiple disciplines, along with industry representatives.
I’m also on the Board of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), which is a non-profit community of nearly 900 universities, companies, non-profits and government organizations working to increase girls’ and women’s meaningful participation in computing.
In these ways and others, I’m closely connected to the lives, worries and dreams of today’s women students and faculty.
As a University Pillar sponsor, I have the pleasure and honor to work closely with a great team of Johnson & Johnson colleagues to build programs that are going to help these students and scientists navigate the improving, but still challenging, STEM2D academic field.
And I can bring in my own life experiences to shape these programs. When young women come to me for advice, I tell them the truth—that gender bias still exists, but that you can break through by believing in yourself and refusing to buy into the myth that “women’s minds just aren’t wired for STEM2D work”; knowing that math and science are as fascinating and impactful as anything else you can do; following a path where you are inspired every day; and realizing that STEM2D disciplines will play a key role in disrupting and improving not just healthcare but all industries.
I wish someone had reached out to me with all these programs and advice when I was the lone woman sitting in a classroom full of male students. I’m glad I had the courage to continue anyway, but it sure would have made the journey so much easier.
That, more than anything, makes me proud that Johnson & Johnson is turning vision into action by stepping up to the giant challenge of gender diversity in the STEM2D arena.