In 2015 Johnson & Johnson launched its WiSTEM2D initiative, designed to encourage girls and women to pursue science and technical careers. (WiSTEM2D stands for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Manufacturing and Design.) But the history of women in technological and scientific roles at Johnson & Johnson dates back more than a century before that.
Founded in 1886 to make the first mass produced sterile surgical dressings and sterile sutures, Johnson & Johnson opened its doors with just 14 employees – eight of whom were women. Since then, the company has had a high percentage of women employees, and today women make up 45% of the company’s more than 130,000 global associates.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, very few women worked in science and technical fields. Women who worked outside of the home were largely confined to domestic and factory work, teaching and nursing. But in that era, one of the company’s original 14 employees, Mathilda D---, was the first female employee at Johnson & Johnson in a STEM2D field. As the tiny startup founded by the Johnson brothers grew, Mathilda earned increasingly greater responsibilities, supervising a manufacturing department by 1908.