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Johnson & Johnson vows to add 50% more Black managers in five years

Johnson & Johnson plans to increase the number of Black managers in the company by 50% within five years as part of a $100 million initiative to tackle racial inequality, executives said Tuesday.

The world’s biggest health company said it also would create college scholarships for Black students interested in science, business and health care.

“This is not something that we do because we think it’s going to get an immediate financial return,” Michael Sneed, executive vice president of global corporate affairs, said in an interview. But “when you have an organization that is focused on serving everybody in all communities, we think that’s certainly a great factor in our overall commercial success.”

Johnson & Johnson’s effort could reverberate statewide. A commitment to social responsibility has long been a calling card of the New Brunswick-based company, which has subsidiaries scattered throughout New Jersey.

J&J’s once sterling reputation has taken hits during the past decade, but the company’s hiring and scholarship initiative announced Tuesday won praise from observers who said it lays out a detailed road map to achieve ambitious goals, giving teeth to a promise that could easily become empty.

“This is good news,” John Harmon, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, said. “I’m hoping others will follow their lead.”

Johnson & Johnson is rolling out its program as the nation winds its way through a tumultuous year that’s been dominated by a global pandemic and a social justice movement.

J&J has had a front-row seat to watch health and race come together.

While the company scrambled to develop a vaccine for a disease that hit people of color disproportionately hard, Sneed said its leaders began searching for ways to address inequality.

J&J is starting in house, where, Sneed said, Blacks make up just 7% of the company’s vice presidents and 6% of its managers and directors. By comparison, Blacks make up 13.4% of the U.S. population.

The company set a goal to increase the number of Black vice presidents and managers by 50% by 2025.

To get there, J&J plans to revamp recruiting to make sure the company reaches diverse job candidates. It plans to train its work force on how to advance to leadership roles. And it plans to create college scholarships and partner with historically Black colleges to create a pipeline for talented workers.

J&J announced other steps it will take to reduce health disparities, including:

  • Partnering with community health care clinics to provide high-tech devices to help underserved populations live healthier lives;
  • Providing mobile vans starting in Detroit and New Orleans to offer COVID-19 tests to hard-to-reach communities, and
  • Increasing access and participation in clinical trials in diverse populations.

“We don’t think that we can do this on our own,” Sneed said. “We do think it takes a coalition of partners. And that’s the approach that we’ll be taking here.”

J&J’s plan is part of a growing number of diversity and inclusion initiatives from New Jersey’s private sector in the wake of last summer’s social justice protests.

New Jersey has ground to make up. The state’s median income in 2017 was $71,137 for white households and $45,755 for Black households. New Jersey’s home ownership rate was 76.9% for whites and 41% for Blacks. The state’s unemployment rate before the pandemic hit was 2.6% for white workers and 6.9% for Black workers.

And there is increasing evidence that economic factors translate into poorer health.

Those gaps prompted the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce to partner with the African American Chamber this year to work with companies on a plan to hire people of color, recruit for boards of directors and bid on supply chain contracts.

“Our state is one of the most, if not the most diverse, states in the country, and we’re not taking advantage of that diversity,” Tom Bracken, president of the New Jersey state chamber, said recently. “We’re leaving a lot on the table, and what we’re leaving on the table can really add to the state’s GDP and the economic health of our state.”

Some New Jersey companies are beginning to take concrete steps to level the playing field.

For example: Newark-based PSE&G, with a $1 billion clean energy program underway, has pledged to develop worker-training programs in cities and ensure that 40% of its contractors are women, minority or veteran-owned businesses within three years.

Toms River-based OceanFirst Financial Corp. in September appointed Dr. Patricia Turner to the board of directors, making her the first Black board member in the company’s 100-plus year history.

And the state chamber itself last month added five Black board members.

By comparison, J&J is ahead of the game. As recently as 2017, it was ranked as the third most diverse and inclusive company in the world, according to a ranking system published by Thomson Reuters.

But last year, J&J ranked 40th in the survey, now published by Refinitiv, an information and technology company, leaving room for improvement.

Accountability and transparency are built into the company’s new initiative. Sneed said J&J will track progress toward its goals on its website.

“People will know very clearly, not only what our goals are on a year-to-year basis, but also the progress against those goals every single year,” Sneed said.