Sévan Kaloustian, Managing Director of Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson: I try to be my first test subject when it comes to changing behavior and bias

In today’s post, Sévan Kaloustian, Managing Director of Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, talks about what actions the company has been taking in diversity management.

What aspects of diversity management have the highest priority in your company?

We see Diversity, Equity & Inclusion as an imperative element to our continued development – the key to ensure success in a world that is evolving much, much faster than ever before in human history. To be able to nurture and put to work every individual strength, every idea, every skillset, no matter how individual or different, is the only sustainable way of any organization to adapt and react to a future that is coming now sooner than ever – and that is reflected in our vision at Johnson & Johnson: “be yourself, change the world”.

Our strategy is aimed at helping each employee to nurture their strengths and understand their responsibilities as a unique individual as well as part of a larger team and lies on three core pillars: advancing a culture of inclusion and innovation, building a diverse workforce for the future and enhance business results and reputation.

Which DE&I activities have been implemented in your organization so far?

We’re enormously proud of our WiSTEM2D (Women in Science, Technology, Education, Mathematics, Manufacture and Design) program – that we developed together with Junior Achievement Romania – that is already entering its fourth year of operation and reaches yearly over 8000 students in over 200 schools. Each year more than 250 teachers and Johnson & Johnson volunteers are working to reach and educate interested girls and “get them over” to the STEM2D side, one that has been traditionally very male-dominated. I think it is one of those projects that represents both a win-win scenario for everyone involved, and maybe the best way to make use of our resources and expertise, even at a personal level.

The company’s goal globally – and one that I adhere wholeheartedly to – is to achieve a 50% representation of women in the STEM2D fields.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by the healthcare/pharmaceutical sector in creating a diverse and inclusive workforce?

I don’t think that we have challenges specific to pharma or healthcare, but that is not to say we lack them. In my view, there are two main battles we are fighting to further diversity, equity and inclusion.

This first is one we share with the rest of the science and technology field – a historical lack of diversity in the field, both at an industry level but also in connected areas like research, academia etc. We are not alone in confronting this problem, and it will take each of us stakeholders, individual or corporate, addressing it to truly reach the potential of change and progress we can bring to society. Our WiSTEM2D program is just one in many steps required, not just for gender diversity but for diversity and inclusion in general.

The second is the matter of unconscious bias we exhibit in our actions and the products of our work. It is part of being human but coupled with a systemic lack of diversity it can distort and diminish the results of our work. So, it’s essential to examine the underlying drivers of our thoughts and behaviors if we are to build genuinely inclusive working environments.

At Johnson & Johnson we have policies for the reintegration of women after a certain age into work, the Re-Ignite program. COVID-19 has driven millions of women to leave the workforce and we have a great opportunity as J&J to show up in a strong way and bring women back to the workforce.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion is everyone’s responsibility at J&J. It requires intentional action every day. J&J employees can advance DE&I on their teams by recognizing and valuing everyone’s unique needs, experiences, and perspectives.

What business benefits do you see as a result of increasing DE&I?

The rewards of creating an inclusive working environment can be huge: creating a culture that values, respects and encourages differences provides organizations with a true competitive advantage. A key concept of innovation is looking at things differently, so to embrace diversity is to build innovation at the core of your organization, which can lead to new, better products, new markets, new ways of approaching and solving problems etc.

And on a human level, creating a diverse and inclusive space is a measure of the value you place on your team. People Leaders need to foster an inclusive working culture that not only removes barriers, discrimination, and intolerance, but also celebrates the differences and recognizes every contribution.

Can you name three diversity challenges that companies have to pay attention to?

The range of challenges is immense – from the micro to the macro, but I would talk about the process that, after all, is the first step in this journey and that is recruitment. It is important to maintain equity towards candidates, we had to analyze what biographical data is present in the candidate selection process and make sure that we screen and strip those data points that might encourage conscious or unconscious bias, and ensure a level playing field for all candidates. We’ve also improved the diversity of the people present in the process on our side – we have achieved a much more diverse interview panel and hiring team.

What do you do to convince your colleagues to see the value in diversity management, or even more to truly get them on board?

To be completely honest, so far improvements in workforce diversity have happened by accident rather than design. We could be making quicker and considerable progress with a more strategic approach.

I feel we actually do have a really strong strategic approach to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and I hope this will serve as an indicator to all of how important it is to us as an organization. But I think little beats the power of leading by personal example. I believe that management has a duty to be the first to act, and top management even more so. I try to be my first test subject when it comes to changing behavior and bias and my team as well.

Interview by Dana Oancea. Copyright Carta Diversitatii

This interview was produced with the financial support of the European Union (project Workplace Inclusion Champion WIC). Its contents are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.