The National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) has named Kathy Wengel, Worldwide Vice President of Johnson & Johnson Supply Chain, as a2015 Woman of Achievement for her leadership role in promoting gender equity.
The award goes to a woman who has attained a high rank and utilized her position, stature and expertise to break down gender bias and effect positive change for women. As an engineer, Kathy is a role model at J&J for her work in challenging stereotypes. Below, she talks about the NAFE honor, her leadership style and how years of living and working around the world advanced her career … and changed the course of her life.
Congratulations on the NAFE honor. So, what does it take to break down gender bias?
Commitment! As a woman, the issue of gender equality obviously matters to me. As I moved up the leadership ranks in my career, I had a responsibility to break down stereotypes and champion women’s empowerment along the way. Women represent half of our planet and should have a commensurate voice in the decision-making process in business. And when that voice hasn’t existed, I’ve worked hard to role model the need and benefit from creating those opportunities. In every team I’ve managed, my goal is always to create as close to 50/50 gender balance as possible.
And that’s not just in the United States. As a global leader at J&J, I see that as my responsibility for all the teams I’ve managed around the world. While different countries have different market dynamics, when you break things down into pieces you can actually move the needle. It’s about being very thoughtful and creative with where you source your talent, who and how interviews are done to eliminate unconscious bias, and being willing to source from non-stereotypical places. In addition, you have to work to build the community and commitment. While I was based in Europe, I served on the Global Steering Committee of the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) (an employee resource group at Johnson & Johnson) and co-chaired the first WLI EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Conference – at the time of the WLI’s 10th Anniversary in the US. Gender bias isn’t easy to break down, but it can be done if there is commitment to it.
Does gender bias still exist?
We’ve made great progress, but women still lag behind in top leadership positions in business and government. I entered the workforce in the late 1980s as an engineer. There were very few female engineers at that time so sometimes I had to prove myself to skeptical male colleagues.
But, I looked for opportunities to gain valuable work experiences, often volunteering for assignments that others weren’t willing to do and bringing to them a unique and highly results oriented and inclusive approach. Over time, with successes in these roles, it helped to negate any gender bias that I encountered working in a male-dominated field. I had been given the opportunity to move abroad to Puerto Rico for work and while as a single woman it was a hard decision to leave my comfort zone and my family, I knew it would lead to opportunities for me professionally and, ironically, personally, too.
During my seven years in Puerto Rico, I had a key leadership role in supporting a business that grew from $400MM to $2B. Tremendous pace of change and the need for leaders to really step up. I had 5 different titles in those seven years, but gained tremendous experience. Based on that experience, I then moved to Europe to be General Manager of J&J’s Janssen pharmaceutical site in Italy, which was transforming from a regional plant to a global source of critical new products. It was my first full site/business leadership role, and in a part of the world not known for having many female leaders. I chose to be fearless and let my experience create my seat at the table and my voice in how I wanted to run that organization and our decision-making processes. It also led to an important personal development for me, because I met and married my husband Giancarlo while working in Italy.
How do you define success?
Love what you do and then build a career around it. If you do that, you will do it a thousand times better than doing a job you aren’t passionate about. Success will follow. It really does.
I also counsel women to be relentless in the pursuit of learning, specifically as much as you can about the industry and environment in which you work. Be engaged: Ask questions, be open to lots of opinions and observe other leadership styles. The leader I am today comes from years of learning, observing and evolving. Success though mostly comes from authenticity. I never felt the need to be “one of the guys” to fit in.
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership takes many forms. For me, I don’t lead by power but by being a person who makes ethical, fact-based decisions that are also tightly linked to both short- and long-term goals for the company. Business strategy needs to be aligned through leadership. I lead by encouraging partnerships, respect for individuals, and having a clear command of facts and goals. I also believe in talent development, meeting with emerging leaders and visiting sites around the world. I spend more than a third of my time on what I broadly call Talent Development – that can be site visits, succession and organizational scenarios, meeting with teams for open Q&A, and just generally being in real touch with my organization and business partners. Whether it is taking our Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky to visit some of our sites, or just taking the time to thank an operator in one of our plants for the great idea they had, to me leadership is really about the choices you make every day in how and where you spend your time.
How do you support women at J&J?
In early 2014, I was selected to lead Supply Chain for all of J&J, and joined the company’s Management Committee. One of my goals always is to improve diversity, and having responsibility for the largest group of technical functions in J&J, it really expanded my opportunity to make a difference in the need for more women to join the STEM and related fields. I’m proud to report that women now make up 35% of my leadership team, up from 20% in 2014. In 2015, I also hired or promoted six incremental female vice presidents across my organization. My goal is to have the strongest, most talented team made up of people with diverse industry backgrounds and nationalities with a common aspiration for J&J become the best supply chain in the world.
I also have taken on a leading role on the Advisory Board of a group called AWESOME, which stands for Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management & Education. Working with AWESOME founder Ann Drake, I’m able to contribute to growing its membership. Johnson & Johnson stood up to be the first corporate co-sponsor of a symposium attended by more than 200 supply chain executive women at the senior director and VP levels, from across all industries. Championing women in the supply chain field is necessary. Only 5% of the Fortune 500 Chief Supply Chain Officers – my current role – are filled by women. We can and we must do better.