A Special Report is content that is edited and produced by the Special Reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report, but who do not have editorial control.

Case study: How Johnson & Johnson tackles gender inequality

Innovation engineering manager Marguerite O’Sullivan on the company’s initiatives to attract women

Marguerite O’Sullivan: “We are seeking to build teams as diverse as the patients we serve.”

Marguerite O’Sullivan: “We are seeking to build teams as diverse as the patients we serve.”


The evidence is clear: less diverse workplaces, particularly those where women are under-represented, make less money. There are fewer perspectives brought to the office, while the attrition rate is higher and talented staff are lost when women aren’t supported in their job through family-friendly policies and an inclusive culture with real promotional opportunities. And that’s without even mentioning the consequences for society when women aren’t given opportunities to thrive.

Healthcare products manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, which has operations in Dublin, Cork and Limerick, has taken active steps to encourage women in the workplace. We spoke to Marguerite O’Sullivan, innovation engineering manager at its DePuy Synthes division, before she heads off on an expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

For Johnson & Johnson, what are the consequences of low female participation in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem)?

“Only 25 per cent of Stem workers in Ireland are women. Women are clearly under-represented in the workforce. We are seeking to build teams as diverse as the patients we serve. The patient population are not one-dimensional and we recognise that there is a need to be diverse and inclusive.”

How is the company tackling this?

“Offering flexible work is one way of engaging good people. Johnson & Johnson is committed to supporting women at all stages of their lives and so we entered into 13 partnerships around the world in places including the US, Japan, South America and Europe, with the aim of increasing the number of undergraduate women enrolling in science, technology, engineering, maths, manufacturing and design (WiStem2D). Building a diverse Stem2D community is part of a broader effort to accelerate the development of women leaders and address the lack of women currently working in Stem careers.

What programmes are you running?

“Our ignite programme of activity has three pillars to address the shortage of women in Stem2D careers in Ireland: the youth programme, the university programme and the professional programme.

What is the youth programme?

“It is where we start to address the pipeline problem. We aim to reach a million girls through a programme of creative problem-solving and play to ignite their interest in technology. Using a co-teaching model, we educate young people on the type of roles available in companies like Johnson & Johnson, with volunteers working in schools for a number of weeks.

“We make sure we get to at least as many girls or co-educational schools as we do boys’ schools. I really enjoyed my own time in the classroom. One of the key messages we get out is that engineering and healthcare are really caring roles that help people and make a difference. If you’re curious or a problem-solver, this could be the job for you.”

What about the university programme?

“This focuses on attracting and retaining women in Stem2D courses in undergraduate disciplines and continuing their careers in this area. We work with leading academic institutions in Ireland, Japan, Brazil and the US to increase the number of women enrolling in and graduating with Stem2D programmes and degrees. This includes a scholarship programme supporting women in Stem2D subjects, industry mentoring and an award programme for the best projects created by students. At the University of Limerick, we support a WiStem community connecting female students and providing industry mentoring.”

And finally, tell us about the professional programme?

“This is a four-month paid return-to-work programme for talented professionals who have taken a break from their Stem careers. This runs throughout our global operations and is currently being rolled out in DePuy Synthes in Ringaskiddy, Cork. There’s a slower induction which brings them up to speed at a pace that works for them, and we’re focused on work-life balance. This is how we retain and attract top female talent.”