As she worked her way through school, Julia Hwang dreamed of being a doctor. But while medicine was pulling her in, Julia’s parents were pushing her to consider alternative pursuits. After weighing all her options, Hwang eventually engineered a creative way to quench her ambition while also respecting her parents’ wishes.
“Even though I wasn’t going to medical school,” Hwang explained, “I still wanted to find ways to make a difference in healthcare. So, I pursued my graduate studies in biomaterials and regenerative medicine. My feeling was that if I’m not going to practice medicine, I still want to impact patients’ lives in a meaningful way.”
Over the last two decades, Hwang has, indeed, contributed very meaningfully to patients through her work with the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies. Today, she is Senior Director of digital solutions and patient insights for DePuy Synthes, the Orthopaedics company of Johnson & Johnson, where she leads a team that harnesses data to elevate the end-to-end orthopedic experience for both patients and providers. In fact, Hwang is one of several women leaders across the company who are innovating and helping to advance our medical technology future through solutions like the VELYS™ Digital Surgery platform, which is revolutionizing the patient care journey for those in need of orthopaedic procedures. Innovating
Innovating … “Like a Girl”
Hwang has earned the respect and admiration of her peers in the traditionally male-dominated worlds of engineering and orthopaedics. But that respect wasn’t easy to come by. From the start of her journey in engineering school, Hwang explained, the challenges often went well beyond the rigors of her coursework.
“I remember getting comments like, ‘You’re pretty smart for a girl’ or ‘You only got in because you’re a girl,’” Hwang said. “You get pretty thick-skinned going through school in that type of environment.”
Addie Harris can relate. Harris, who leads robotics research and development for DePuy Synthes, grew up playing with blocks and trains and loved fidgeting with any materials she could use to make things that move. In school, she was often one of only a few women in the classroom while studying to be an engineer. In fact, she was the only woman in her entire department as a Fulbright Distinguished Fellow at Lincoln University in New Zealand. While that experience may have been a bit uncomfortable, Harris explained it was worth it to bring more and varied points of view to the fields of engineering and robotics.
“If you fail to consider the female perspective, you’re failing half the population and you’re failing yourselves,” Harris said. “Having more points of view at the table challenges thinking and problem-solving, which always improves overall solutions.”
Prior to joining DePuy Synthes, Harris put her skills to work helping to perfect a popular robotic vacuum for consumers and building an underwater robotic system to help identify the DNA of living things in the deepest depths of the ocean. Now, she’s tapping into her vast and varied experience to help doctors and patients with innovations like the VELYS Robotic-Assisted Solution, which received FDA clearance in January.
While more women like Harris and Hwang are pursuing careers in engineering, men still far outnumber them. In fact, according to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), only 13 percent of all engineers are female. On top of those disproportionate numbers, SWE reports that only 30 percent of women who earn engineering bachelor’s degrees are still working in the field after 20 years.
“The problem of women dropping out of technical roles is very real,” Harris said. “Until we overcome gender biases, this will continue to happen.”
Further research from SWE reports that 30 percent of women who’ve left engineering cite “organizational climate” as the reason, confirming Harris’s assertion. Hwang added that she’s witnessed the exodus first hand amongst her acquaintances.
“I have friends who’ve abandoned technology or technical roles because they didn’t have the same experience I did,” said Hwang, explaining that she has had “phenomenal” mentors – both men and women – during her tenure with J&J and DePuy Synthes. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have known leaders in the organization willing to take time to provide honest and timely feedback and guidance on how to improve. That mentorship and sponsorship help to pull you up.”
Bringing “Something Unique”
Sharrolyn Josse, Worldwide President of VELYS Digital Surgery at DePuy Synthes, said that having varying perspectives from women like Harris, Hwang, herself and other leaders across genders, ethnicities and diverse backgrounds ultimately results in a better product and experience for the company’s customers – both providers and patients alike. She explained that all stakeholders want to know their points of view have been considered and built into the solution.
“As a female who’s worked in orthopedics for 22 years,” Josse said, “I love coming to the table and thinking differently to what my male counterparts have thought. We all bring something unique. We bring so much more because there are so many things we all have learned and we can complement one another to make great things happen.”
Josse, who in her youth shunned gender stereotypes and developed an early knack for business when she took up a paper route as a pre-teen and even hired her sister to help grow her coverage area, further explained that diverse perspectives help teams build not only on what they already know, but what they don’t know.
“Collectively,” she said, “people from diverse backgrounds and experiences bring insights that are going to catapult us and make us more successful in addressing the needs of the communities around us. While it’s clear that women are making a tremendous difference here, we know there’s still work to do to improve gender representation and overall diversity across our company. Our mission is to make diversity and inclusion our way of doing business.”