Carolina Forero Isaza, North Cluster Board Attorney and LATAM Vaccines Lead, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

From Latin America diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to board attorney and vaccines lead, Carolina Forero Isaza explains the importance of inclusion, and how legal teams can work to understand differences in their day-to-day activities

I love the way the DEI team at Johnson and Johnson puts it: you belong. I love it because it’s about feeling comfortable to bring your true self to work.

It’s indispensable to have everybody’s point of view – if you have customers, patients and stakeholders all over the world, it’s important to have a wide variety of people inside the Company.
But, in addition to that, I think when you’re comfortable being yourself, you’re more creative. You feel better about raising your hand and shouting out your ideas and about participating. I also think when you’re comfortable being yourself, you’re better engaged.

Getting the culture right

We always think about our law department culture as one of camaraderie. We get invited to speak, with colleagues from other countries, about the future of our law department and how to make it better, and we’re always focused on making sure that, even as our department has grown over the years, we keep that camaraderie culture. I think we’re succeeding in that process, and I think that’s a very good grounding for DEI.

We have periodic training on different topics, for example, on unconscious bias, on building trust, and on many subjects related to DEI.

We also have Employee Resource Groups – we have groups that champion women, we have the ‘open and out’ group, which is a group that supports the LGBTQIA+ community, and we recently launched a group in Colombia that is supportive of indigenous communities.

We have been learning from the US team, which has been very active in examining racial inequality and social injustice; we’ve had book-clubs, we’ve had movie discussions, we’ve had experts come to talk to us.

Something that we had recently, that I thought was incredible, were some talks by experts on menopause, which is something that is part of being a woman, but we sometimes take it for granted. We are taught about giving birth, about being a mother, and about many things, but not about something that is so inherent to our lives as menopause. That, I think, is how inclusive our law department is.

Living DEI day-to-day

In the law department at Johnson & Johnson, one of the members of the leadership team of our general counsel is always responsible for DEI, and at the regional levels we also have leaders of DEI initiatives and DEI committees. We have some programs and initiatives that are global, and others that are regional. DEI is part of our strategic planning in the law department, and people report on our DEI efforts regularly.

We have some global objectives that we have to complete within the year – so there is some training we have to complete, we have to make sure that our goals include DEI goals, and in our conversations with our leaders, we report on how we met or did not meet those goals. But we also have a DEI committee at the regional level and, at the LatAm law department, we have our own strategic planning that we have to present to the global council. We report to them at least every quarter, and tell them how we’re doing, what we’ve finished, what we didn’t, and whether we completed our plan or not.

I think our law department leaders have made the law department really live DEI; it’s not something to check the box, but it’s really in our way of thinking.

Appreciating difference

I had a chance to lead the law department DEI group for Latin America a couple of years ago. We wanted to make sure that we respected everybody’s holidays, so we made a calendar to make sure that no regional meetings were ever scheduled during special holidays for different people in the group.

We tend to all speak Spanish in the meetings and leave our colleagues in Brazil on the side, so we tried to work on that by balancing the meetings – having some parts in Portuguese and some parts in Spanish. We even shared some glossaries of words in both languages, so we could all feel more comfortable.

We had an initiative called ‘beyond the label’, where with each LatAm law department newsletter, we got to know one of our colleagues – so, for example, someone might be the IP lawyer, but they are also interested in wildlife conservation and had a chance to live in Africa in an elephant nursery. We’ve had things like that, to connect at another

It might not be rocket science, but these are things that keep us on our toes and thinking about how we’re different.

The importance of listening

On a personal level, I think being constantly reminded of the importance of listening is key in DEI. Lawyers are used to talking a lot and, in a way, we may not be so good at listening. I think the best way to make sure that everybody feels welcome, and that we hear everyone’s voice, is if we learn to listen.

I think legal strategies benefit greatly from other points of view, so I always discuss the important strategies with the business, with our marketing director, with our general manager, and I think that’s also inclusion. And that comes together with leaving aside the legal language – I like to think of myself like a translator, translating legal language into business language.