J&J Worldwide VP Consumer Health Supply Chain & Deliver, breaks down how companies can support the growth of women in supply chain.
By Johnson & Johnson Worldwide Vice President Consumer Health Supply Chain & Deliver, Meri Stevens
The next generation of the supply chain is here – evolving to be more nimble, more global, and more technologically-advanced than ever before. And, more diverse. As our industry steps forward, it’s critical we ensure the next generation of talent sees themselves reflected in our workforce.
Though supply chain management adapts well to situational circumstances, it has been slow to adapt to demographic ones: less than 41% of the supply chain workforce is female and only 17% of supply chain officers are female. This gap – and more broadly, the lack of female supply chain leaders – puts global supply chains at a disadvantage in the war for talent. Given the volatile world we face, understanding how to attract, develop, and retain female talent is critical to future supply chain success.
Thriving in today’s environment requires resilience, agility, and innovative ways of working. As the leader of the global supply chain for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health, I oversee supply chain operations for iconic J&J brands like TYLENOL® and Neutrogena®. Our Company depends on a diverse global workforce of superheroes, essential in maintaining continuity of supply throughout the pandemic. We were able to build a resilient supply chain model, using sophisticated algorithms for risk management and business continuity that withstood the last two years of turbulence. Equally important to our success was the creativity and digital innovation brought by the inclusion of new thinking fostered by diversity.
There’s a strong case for bringing more women into the supply chain workforce – women are proven to be exceptional collaborators and agile thinkers, deeply needed abilities in order to organize efforts across the fragmented nature of today’s global supply chains. Studies show more collaborative companies enjoy double the growth. Research also finds women are talented at seeing connections in complexity, making them well-equipped to identify patterns in data. Considering women are the key decision-makers in 80% of the world’s health decisions, these skills are valuable to have at the table for supply chain management.
Importantly, creating growth pathways for women is in the economic best interest of modern companies. My Company recognized early on that a commitment to gender diversity, beyond being fair and the right thing, is a competitive advantage. Diversity fosters more creativity, better team dynamics, and more viewpoints from which to solve problems – it’s no surprise that companies with diverse leadership fare better than those without it. Gender diversity also attracts the best talent: the next generation of leaders seek out companies that align with their values, which undoubtedly means a commitment to diversity. Investing in female talent early cultivates passionate, well-supported employees – part of why our Company celebrates such tenured teams.
Throughout my career, I’ve sought to be a champion for female supply chain managers and women in STEM. As a supply chain leader, engineer, mother of three girls, and an executive sponsor of the WiSTEM²D program at Johnson & Johnson, I’m responsible for paying forward the doors that others opened before me.
Cultivating successful female supply chain and STEM leaders requires early investment – as early as elementary and middle school. Girls tend to fall off the STEM track at 9-11 years old, resulting in a loss of the early fundamentals and less preparation for more challenging high school and college STEM classes. That’s why our Women in STEM program, which focuses on reaching young women early, is so important.
The WiSTEM²D program seeks to ensure young women have access to professional programs that provide support and mentorship starting at an early age. By building this pipeline, young professionals can feel supported throughout their learning process, forming a funnel to create diversity at every level. In my early days, there were few female STEM leaders because women weren’t provided the fundamental support needed to climb the ladder. I am proud to be a part of the leadership that is changing that.
It’s equally important to provide women with re-entry points back into the workforce, so they are not forced to choose between motherhood and their career. One way we’ve accomplished this is by developing the Re-Ignite Program, which offers paid “returnships” for professionals to receive skills training and the potential to enter a full-time position.
But nothing changes without a collective commitment to support women at every stage of their careers, repairing a “broken rung” of the ladder to ensure women can advance from day one. The future of supply chain resiliency depends on investing in forward-thinking female talent: I hope to see many of my colleagues rise to the occasion.
Meredith (Meri) Stevens
Meredith (Meri) Stevens is currently the Johnson & Johnson Worldwide Vice President, Consumer Health Supply Chain and Deliver. Meri assumed the Deliver leadership role in May 2019. In July 2020, she expanded her leadership responsibilities to include the Consumer Health Supply Chain as well. Prior to this, Meri led J&J Supply Chain Strategy and Deployment, a position she’d held since 2015.
Meri is responsible for the Consumer Health Supply Chain organization end to end and all global Deliver functions including order fulfillment and customer service. In her role, she is transforming these organizations to achieve world class reliability and performance. By embracing the power of digital, her teams are achieving greater agility, innovation and resilience, assuring the continued supply of life saving medicines and essential supplies to patients, consumers, customers and communities globally.
Meri holds a B.S. in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering and an M.S. in Industrial Management, both from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. At Johnson & Johnson, she is an executive sponsor of our Youth Pillar of the Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing and Design (WiSTEM2D) program. Outside of J&J, Meri is on the US Board of GS1 and the Advisory Boards of the Smithsonian Science Education Center and RPI’s Supply Chain Management Program.
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