The Re-Ignite program at Johnson & Johnson (DiversityInc Hall of Fame) is aimed at helping STEM professionals relaunch their careers after breaks from the field. It began as a pilot in 2017 and transitioned into a company-wide talent development initiative. Liz Markus, director of the program, spoke with DiversityInc about the purpose of Re-Ignite and how it aligns with Johnson & Johnson’s values of diversity and inclusion.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Olivia Riggio: What is the history of the Re-Ignite program at Johnson & Johnson?
Liz Markus: Re-Ignite was created and truly is guided by our credo. At Johnson & Johnson, we are always committed to helping employees, families, and communities live well across their whole life, and that means spiritual, mental, physical and financial [well-being]. We enable an engaged and purpose-driven workforce that improves the health for humanity and Re-Ignite couldn’t be a better fit in [the] type of organization [like ours]. We’ve really long championed progressive workplace policies in support of families. We have global parental leave [and] we ship breast milk, so we know that with today’s fast-paced, dynamic, ever-changing world — which is changing even more now — we must keep up with our work and adapt in a way that Re-Ignite is allowing us to do.
The idea came through a partnership that we have [with] the Society of Women Engineers [SWE] and an organization called iRelaunch, of the opportunity to really help engage individuals in STEM functions through this returnship-type opportunity. And when we heard about this task force that was started with SWE and iRelaunch, we knew that Johnson & Johnson, for all the reasons I just listed — leaning into the future of work and not only helping individuals that have career breaks but really applauding them and recognizing that agility, flexibility and creativity—was something that was just a fabulous fit for us as an organization and the communities where we live and work.
We are part of a task force where—through our partnerships with the Society of Women Engineers and iRelaunch—a number of other companies all created returnship programs, but Re-Ignite in itself is unique, and I created it and designed it for the way that it works [at] Johnson & Johnson.
OR: What does Re-Ignite offer those who are re-entering STEM careers?
LM: Re-Ignite offers the opportunity for these individuals to dust off their skills, to work for an organization that’s helping shape the health of humanity and work on projects and assignments over a four-month period. And during that four-month period, you’re not only working on the projects and assignments, but you’re also receiving coaching and specific onboarding related to challenges and opportunities that returners have. We provide mentors and peer buddies that connect with the returners on a regular basis, as well as a bi-weekly coffee chat for all of our returners to just connect in a casual manner, to [and] provide that opportunity for a network.
OR: Walk me through the program. What kind of projects and training do participants take part in?
LM: What’s great about Re-Ignite is we really designed the program to embed and engage these individuals in the businesses where they’re working. Each role is different and unique … to the role that is needed and that the hiring manager has in the organization. So, we have folks that are engineering, that are working on our plant floors. We have folks that are in our deliver organization, as well as folks that are in regulatory. So, it really runs the gamut and what’s nice about the program is that you’re part of the team from the get-go. You’re not in this separate leadership development program where you’re not working with the team you’d work with full-time. You really get to feel a sense of the community at JnJ and the work you’d be doing as a full-time employee from day one.
OR: What’s the application process like?
LM: The application process is a standard application, just as we post roles for any traditional-type employment at Johnson & Johnson. So, we have what we call a relationship-centric, digitally driven approach to recruiting. We make sure that the candidate has a great experience once they submit their application through the website. They go through the interview process [via] our platform and ensure that we [facilitate] dialogue with the candidates.
What’s great about Re-Ignite as well is that we do have hiring managers and the recruiters that are aware of the returners and their situation. They understand the unique nature of a returning professional, and understand the questions that they may ask are related to what the individuals have been doing over their break as a positive.
OR: What is the importance of engaging those who are re-entering the workforce?
LM: From my experience in this role, we have really seen that [for] these individuals who have taken a career break, [this program] has been so enriching to their experiences and allows them to really hone in on their agility, their flexibility, and creativity … You’re able to really hone in on skills that you can’t teach elsewhere. The value that these individuals bring and the returnship program really helps them just dust off skills or readjust those skills that they’ve learned and developed during their career break in a way that’s applicable in the workforce.
OR: What sorts of learning curves do returners face?
LM: One thing that we have seen and heard time and [time] again is technology, so really getting back up to speed on using Outlook. Outlook from even a few years ago looked different. And now we have Zoom, Skype, and all of these different tools, and so we know that from the get-go, we want these returners to feel like they’re catching up and getting up to speed quickly. We build in a lot of quick-start guides and playbooks that we help support the returners with, and we do a lot of surveys with them as well to understand, “What do you need?” or, “What do you wish you had when you first started?” We continue to revise and shape and create the program that will be the best program to these returners … We do a lot of these types of assessments to ensure that the program is really valuable from day one.
OR: Who typically takes part in the returnship program and how do these participants help you meet your diversity goals?
LM: Out of the 46 returners that have gone through or are going through the program, we have three men and 43 women, and the majority of returners had left the workforce … to raise families … However, we do have a veteran. We have individuals that left, maybe their engineering career, for example, to become teachers … We have someone who, I believe, left to start her own business … We have individuals that left — one woman left to go to the Peace Corps, for example. It’s not just that traditional, ‘We’re only focusing on moms returning to the workforce,’ which we know is a great number of individuals out there. But anyone can take a career break or take a different path … and want to come back, and we welcome that, and we really understand all of those journeys that individuals can take. It adds to our diversity because those diverse experience—the diverse thinking—really makes us stronger.