How to increase diversity in medtech: This J&J VP has insights
Carolyn Mordas has risen quickly through the ranks at Johnson & Johnson to become VP of Biosurgery R&D at the company’s Ethicon business. Her story hints at what needs to be done to boost diversity in medtech.
When Carolyn Mordas was a PhD student at Princeton University, there were brilliant faculty members constantly reminding her that she didn’t know everything. They challenged her know-how every day.
Mordas needed to make some money while preparing to defend her PhD thesis, so she got an internship at Johnson & Johnson Consumer business offices a few miles away in Skillman, N.J. What she encountered was an entirely different environment.
“These people have been working here for 20 or 30 years. They’re so smart. They know everything. But they were very humble and said, ‘Hey no, this is why we hired you. We need to solve a problem, and we’re looking for your guidance,’” Mordas recently told to Medical Design & Outsourcing.
Mordas’ internship turned into what is now a 15-year career at Johnson & Johnson. Her story provides some clues into what medtech companies overall need to do to boost diversity.
Providing an intellectually stimulating environment appears to be a start. Mordas during her college years had a goal of becoming a college professor, but she thinks she’s gotten to teach more being at J&J.
“We get to learn from the world around us, what’s happening in trends in the healthcare industry, what’s happening in the competition,” Mordas said. “We’re constantly sharing knowledge and teaching each other – and also cross-correlating because sometimes the facts are a little harder to find. We have to take multiple data points and teach all of us collectively and then make sense out of it, which is even better.”
Mordas has also risen fast in the company in recent years. For years, she had roles of increasing responsibility from staff scientist to senior director in the company’s oral care business, working on brands such as Listerine. In March 2018, she moved over to Ethicon to become senior R&D director of wound closure and repair product development. A year later, she became VP of biosurgery product R&D, where she works on next-generation hemostats to minimize surgical bleeding.
When it came to work on consumer products, it was about freshening breath and reducing gingivitis.
“While there’s absolutely quality of life and health benefits that come from that, it’s not saving lives. I learned [at Ethicon] about suture products literally going into people’s hearts and keeping their hearts going for decades to come,” Mordas said.
“This is not about me creating the suture. This is about changing the ways of working to inspire innovation,” Mordas said.
Mordas’ advice to people who want to move up and provide more value for a business: Don’t forget to network.
“I think whether it’s in my last role or any of the roles before, they come through a good amount of skill and hard work, and then a good amount of building a network of people who can see what value it is that you’re bringing and where else you might be an asset,” Mordas said.
Don’t just collect LinkedIn contacts or business cards, either. Understand the other person and get them to understand you, Mordas advised.
“Because those are the connections that help you out, not just someone knowing your name. … Especially for women early in their career, if you need something, ask for it. It doesn’t matter what it is, someone is willing to help you.”
Women occupy 27% of the top leadership roles at J&J – higher than the overall 18% figure among the world’s 100 largest medical device companies, according to an MDO analysis. Top leaders at J&J include Ashley McEvoy, who runs one of the largest medical device businesses in the world.
Mordas suspects the percentage is even higher among lower-level executives – and it matters.
“Today’s junior talent is going to be tomorrow’s leaders, and the more that we can attract and retain and develop, the better off we’re going to be in the future,” Mordas explained.
Johnson & Johnson also has a goal of getting more women involved in scientific fields. In 2015, the company launched its Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Manufacturing and Design (WiSTEM2D) initiative, which supports women from their youth through university and into their professional careers.
Moving over to Ethicon, Mordas has noticed that fields such as mechanical and electrical engineering have a higher proportion of men. But she also thinks the blending of disciplines in medtech will eventually improve the situation.
“We no longer have standalone devices,” Mordas said. “We’re thinking about systems of devices. That could be something that might look like a mechanical widget, but on top of it, it has a chemical coating that has antimicrobial benefits. And there may be sensors. And there may be imaging. So it’s becoming so interdisciplinary. … It’s these intersections where the magic is happening.”