How J&J Targets Racial Biases with Personal Accountability

By Lilly Milman |  October 29, 2020

With the recent surge in protests related to the Black Lives Matter movement across the United States, and as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately affect minority populations, companies across the world are looking deeper at their role in promoting equality — both internally and externally. But the work shouldn’t end with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) office, says Wanda Hope, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Johnson & Johnson. 

Wanda Hope, Johnson & Johnson

“There are inequities that are inherently built into systems and processes,” she says. “You have to put the right resources and the right focus around trying to break some of those systems and processes, and identify where there may be bias or…inequities… It has to be something that is embedded throughout your organization. It can’t just be the office of DEI responsible for diversity and inclusion… It has to be an individual feeling of responsibility and accountability.” 

In a recent conversation, Hope explained how Johnson & Johnson strives to eliminate biases from its hiring process with tools and training, what is changing in the C-suite in terms of DEI, and practices that move the needle when it comes to fostering diversity. This interview with Hope is a part of InnoLead’s most recent research report, “CxOs & Innovation.” For more data and interviews on the C-suite’s relationship with innovation, visit the main report page.  


There’s been two very significant environmental shifts — the first obviously being COVID-19, and a large part of our workforce working from home and essential workers still going into the workspaces. The second big environmental awakening has been the acknowledgment around systemic inequities and racism that still exists not only in American society, but actually…globally. 

What we see happening from the C-suite across corporate America [is] our most senior leaders really…educating themselves more, and understanding the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on communities of color. … There’s also been a shift in C-suite executives trying to figure out what we can do as corporations to actually make a difference and to drive better equity, both internal to our organizations, as well as drive more equity externally to create a better society in our world. 

In what ways has it been easier or harder to do the work on improving DEI with so many people working remotely?

When we think about large portions of our employee base now working remotely when we haven’t normally done that, we have to think about how we support employees. … We recognize that working from home may continue for some time. It might even be preferred for some for some jobs as we move into the future. But we have to also make sure that we’re preserving our culture, and ensuring that we’re creating an inclusive environment where everyone can feel comfortable, can feel empowered, and has the ability to contribute at the highest level to help us drive innovation. 

Physically, we do this by allowing for flexibility and work arrangements. We know that we have to make sure that we’re accounting for everyone’s individual needs, whether it’s childcare or elder care. We do that by offering different types of childcare benefits to support family needs, and even elder care benefits. We’ve done things like trying to make sure that our employees can be successful working from home by enhancing our technology capabilities. 

Our Office of Diversity and Inclusion…actually [has] a global team. So, for us, there’s been some adjustment, but because we do have a global team that’s based all over the world, we were actually pretty used to working in virtual environments. 

Can you highlight any diversity and inclusion practices that have moved the needle at Johnson & Johnson?

We use artificial intelligence to try to mitigate possible bias in our job descriptions. We train all of our people, leaders and hiring managers, on how bias may seep into thinking to make sure that we are being as objective as possible when we’re interviewing and hiring talent. We’ve trained all of our employees on unconscious bias to make sure that our actions are actually aligned with the good intent that most people have. 

We’ve done things like partnering with diverse professional organizations to identify and attract new talent, and deepening relationships with student organizations that are diverse within universities and colleges. Even from an internal standpoint, when we’re looking at developing talent, we’ve created a sponsorship program that really helps to accelerate the development of diverse employees around the world, and prepare them for future leadership roles. 

How is creating a culture of personal accountability a part of the onboarding process at J&J? 

We had a massive campaign across the organization to help educate people on what diversity and inclusion now meant to J&J, and what everyone’s individual roles and responsibilities were. … It was an intentional educational and engagement effort. … It just doesn’t happen naturally… We actually put a lot of work into that.  

When we think about how we continue to drive the importance and to help people understand their responsibility, it is embedded throughout our talent processes in a number of ways. … We’ve done training on unconscious bias. We’ve had more than 95 percent of our employees participate in that training. … A part of the onboarding process at J&J is that employees will take unconscious bias [training]… Employees do get an overview of what diversity and inclusion means to our organization and the importance of it. 

Another way that we drive it for every employee is that it’s actually baked into the leadership behaviors, and expectations of our employees, and that is linked directly into performance and development. … This is not just something coming out of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. It’s baked throughout our talent processes and practices, and systems. It’s baked into business plans across the organization. That’s how we not only keep it alive and keep people energized around it, but continue to drive it to drive DEI forward and utilize it to help us really drive innovation, where the patients and the consumers and the customers that we serve every day.

What advice do you have for companies that are trying to be more inclusive of the people they already have on their innovation teams, in addition to bringing in new talent?

When we are talking about diversity and inclusion and equity, there’s a couple of critical success factors that are necessary for any company to be successful at it. … It has to be intentional and it has to be within your organization. Diversity and inclusion has to be considered a business priority, just like any other opportunity that comes the organization’s way. It has to be business critical. There also has to be the right tone at the top. The most senior leaders of the organization have to…believe in this.