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Our Common Cause in Driving Workplace Equity

Carol Montandon

Carol Montandon is Chief Quality Officer and Global Vice President of Quality & Compliance at Johnson & Johnson (J&J). She is also co-chair of J&J’s Women’s Leadership and Inclusion (WLI) group, a global employee resource group (ERG) whose mission is to develop, empower and help women advance in their careers. A self-described “fierce advocate and passionate supporter of women,” Montandon recently sat down with us to share the impact that being a member of the HBA’s Gender Parity Collaborative (GPC) has had on J&J and on her personally.

For most of my career, I’ve been in a male-dominated environment. As a female with a lot of ambition, I really sought out women in positions of power. And I’ve always advocated for other women. At J&J, I’ve been part of our women’s employee resource group (ERG) from almost my first day here. I started as a partaker — attending events, making connections, and finding mentors and sponsors. Then my role evolved and I became the mentor. Today I co-chair our global WLI group, which is our largest ERG by far.

I think the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association in general is a tremendous, safe learning ground for leaders, and offers so many opportunities for women to grow and demonstrate their leadership. When we heard about the caliber of the founding members of the HBA’s Gender Parity Collaborative (GPC), we thought, “We need a seat at that table.” We’re so proud of the work we do internally at J&J, and knew we had strong programs that could be shared. And also, we know that we don’t know everything, and this was an opportunity to learn.

My first meeting with the GPC was one we hosted, right after we joined. It was a phenomenal opportunity to meet like minded people across our industry, to network — there were a lot of other big companies, but some small companies, too, with unique needs and unique, innovative ideas. We showcased what we do with our WLI group and talked about several of our programs. I brought in my boss, as well as our CEO at the time, Alex Gorsky, who shared that the majority of J&J’s first employees were women; he talked about how gender parity is foundational for us, and how our commitment comes from the top.

One of my big takeaways from that first meeting was that we all share the same challenges. When you’re trying to do something that’s big, you almost feel alone sometimes, taking a lot of small steps in the right direction, so my biggest takeaway was the commonality we have with each other. For example, we had a great conversation around the barriers women face to get to the C-suite. For many women, the barrier to being CEO is not having experience with P&L accountability. We’re often in functions that aren’t like Head of Sales that have P&L, and sometimes the fact that we’re moms keeps us from certain roles that require us to be on call 24/7. The Collaborative had a conversation about how to widen the aperture and look at different ways women might get that experience — it was such a fantastic conversation, one that I took back to our HR team.

After that first meeting, I gave my team the opportunity to participate in GPC meetings, instead of me. To this day, so much of what we learn from the GPC gets directly pulled into the WLI group. For example, the GPC’s focus on accelerating the advancement of women of color has helped inform our own programming. We’ve definitely gathered some pearls from the GPC, and we’ve also given. One of our key tenets at J&J is to use our size and breadth for good, to use our strengths to help the world — we do this a lot with our medicines and technology, of course, and sharing through the GPC is another way to use our size for good.

In just being transparent with each other, as members of the Collaborative, we’re walking the walk. It’s easy to talk — we all know gender parity is right, and it’s right to do this, and wrong to do that. But when we’re sharing, talking about areas of progress as well as areas where we’re struggling, that is more walking the walk. And then talking about solutions is walking the walk, and then implementing them in our companies is walking the walk.

I remember from the meeting I was at, focusing on the broken rung. Women were getting stuck at the manager level. I remember I shared, and got a really good response, that when I took over the WLI role, I did a survey of members and non-members to see what was working, and what was on people’s minds. And one of the key things that came out of that is that we have these panels where senior women are onstage talking about how they’ve risen to the top echelons, sharing their journeys. And that’s aspirational, but people want to know how to become a manager — how to go from individual contributor to manager. So we brought a new balance to our programming, keeping the aspiration there, but also providing real content and guidance and development programs and visibility to our heroes who are managers, not just showcasing women at the VP level and beyond. That resonated a lot with folks in the GPC.

Right now, we’re getting ready to launch what we’re calling our WLI Advancement Academy. We have information and resources on anything at J&J — if you want it, we have it somewhere — but too often, you can’t find it. So, this project is about pulling together and leveraging many of the J&J leadership development resources and learnings in a single place, a centralized platform. It’s going to be self-directed, and cohort based, and a big piece is community, so J&J women can connect and grow alongside one another.

There are so many women I look up to, including my current boss, Executive Vice President and Chief Technical Operations & Risk Officer Kathryn Wengel. She is someone who, even when I don’t dream as big as I should, she pushes me — but she also gives you tough love when you need it, and she’s always spot-on. She gives in-the-moment feedback, which I really appreciate, because it’s so impactful. And it’s rare for a leader, because it means investing extra time, and it can be uncomfortable, but she does it because she believes in people enough, and she cares.

As far as women I look up to whom I don’t know, I love Michelle Obama. I actually had the opportunity to meet her at a women’s conference. I went backstage, and I had about 20 seconds with her. I’d done this kind of meet and greet before, and it’s usually: picture, boom. But she looked me in the eye, and gave me a literal hug — this was pre-Covid. And then she looked at me — and I’m almost 6 feet tall — and she said, “Tall girls!” And we fist bumped.

Looking back, I really doubled down on my advocacy for women when I became the mother of two daughters, and now I have two granddaughters. We need to pave the way to make things easier for the next generation.