An Interview with Medtronic's Luann Pendy

The second installment in a series on women in medtech focuses on Luann Pendy, senior vice president of Global Quality at Medtronic.

Maria Shepherd

You can’t be in medtech and not know about the accomplishments Medtronic has achieved in bringing advanced medical technology to market. Contributing to Medtronic’s growth is Luann Pendy, senior vice president of Global Quality at Medtronic. Luann’s energy is a positive and powerful force, and rang through our telephone interview loud and clear. 

Luann is an enthusiastic advocate of Medtronic’s programs to increase opportunities for women. While some of these programs are not unique to Medtronic, what is exceptional is the commitment to and passion about diversity within the ranks of the world’s largest medical device company.

The diversity programs Luann described are new, positive, and evolving for the medical device industry. This is exciting news in a business where most medtech executive women have reported difficulty breaking through the glass ceiling. In a 2016 survey of 24 medtech women executives, respondents reported that approximately 14% of their executive peers are women. Survey respondents, all female directors, VPs, and CEOS, were frank in their feedback and candid in their quotes.

As measured by women making it to the executive ranks, women in our sister industry, pharmaceuticals, fare slightly better. The EDGE pharmaceutical industry study found that women hold only 17% of senior management positions at pharma and biotech companies. In comparison, a study done by Catalyst  found that 25.1% of executive/senior-level positions in the S&P 500 are filled by women. Do medtech and pharma not let women lean in?

Medtronic has a global work force of greater than 88,000 employees and has come a long way from its startup days as a medical equipment repair shop in 1949. Founder Earl Bakken created the first battery-powered external artificial pacemaker and Medtronic has been innovating ever since.

Luann knows how big companies operate. She started her career at Abbott, moved to Hospira, and then transitioned to Medtronic in 2008. As a senior vice president at Medtronic, Luann is a busy woman. But, she graciously shared an hour of her time to discuss the changes Medtronic is making in the engagement and empowerment of women.

Welcome! In your opinion, how do Medtronic’s numbers match up to the survey?

LP: At Medtronic, 49% of our employees are female, so we feel good about that. At the management level, defined as director and above, it’s closer to one-third.

It’s a good number, better than average. What makes Medtronic’s number higher, in terms of getting women into executive roles?

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LP: At Medtronic we closely follow our Mission. If you’ve heard our CEO, Omar Ishrak, I’m sure he mentioned the Mission at Medtronic, the aspirational model we follow. Tenet 5 of the Mission says that we recognize the personal worth of all employees by providing advancement opportunities to share in the company’s success. This helps us make decisions to be sure women and all employees have the same advancement opportunities.

How is the Medtronic culture different from other medical device companies? Can you give me an example?

LP: One example is a program we call Careers 2.0. It’s part of our Women in Science and Engineering initiative. Omar wants to be sure that women in science and engineering have great career opportunities. Careers 2.0 addresses one of the barriers we identified for women in medtech. It offers internships to female engineers who have temporarily left the workforce and are now ready to return. As you’re aware, there’s a time in a woman’s career when they may choose to take time off—for family, for childbearing, for other reasons. The women in our Careers 2.0 program will have a chance to refresh their technical skills, to participate in professional development, and take advantage of mentoring opportunities while they’re looking for a permanent position within the company. We’ve just started, so I don’t have any results to share yet. The pilot is up and running and we are confident that this will give women an entry point back into the medical device workplace that they may not currently have.

Another example is our women’s network—it’s our largest employee resource group at Medtronic with more than 8000 members across 25 country hubs. The network brings women together to give them the tools, techniques, and networking opportunities they need to achieve their personal level of success.

Tell me about mentoring programs at Medtronic. Are they formally or informally managed, structured, etc.?

LP: I have a strong and open commitment to mentoring because that is one of the most important examples I can share with women in leadership positions. We need to be a voice and a mentor for each other. I feel that it’s my responsibility to reach down and actively pull up women into the leadership roles. When I started my career almost 30 years ago at Abbott, I was fortunate to have sponsors who looked out for me—who paid attention to my career and encouraged me to get to the next level. Someone helped me, and I feel it’s my responsibility to help others. I also feel that women in leadership positions need to influence the organization’s decisions—to have the courage to speak up and promote the idea of women in leadership. We feel that the environment Medtronic is creating for each woman to achieve their personal level of success explains in part why we have high numbers of women in leadership positions. That’s not to say we are where we need to be—we know there’s room for improvement and we continue to work on that.

Tell me about diversity at Medtronic.

LP: We think leadership must set the tone at the top. Omar has sent a clear message to his executive committee that we must improve diversity in our organization and be able to understand and describe why it’s important to have a diverse team. Studies have shown that having a diverse team will provide better business solutions due to the different set of experiences, background, and opinions of the people sitting at the table. We also recognize we must work with middle management to increase the number of women preparing for leadership positions.

Medtronic has just kicked off a resource group called Men Advocating Change. It was started by a small group of men who recognized the value of a diverse team that includes women. It is a very active resource group, especially in our sales organization. We think that these types of groups create opportunities for building important skills and empowerment in the organization.

What does Men Advocating Change do?

LP: The group has been together for about nine months. First, just being visible in our organization has huge power in Medtronic. At a very high level, this group is making it okay to talk about diversity, to ask questions about why having women leaders is important. Specific activities within the program are to provide opportunities for women to have male or female mentors within their function. In addition, the program brings men into Medtronic women’s programs. By pulling men into the Medtronic women’s network, we start to get more awareness, acceptance, and knowledge in the management team. This is an important process to increase the number of women that can grow into leadership positions.

Where are these ideas coming from?

LP: Omar made it acceptable and okay to talk about diversity. I’m on the executive committee reporting to Omar, and when people at my level start encouraging discussion, that makes it okay to get the conversation going. But, who thinks of these ideas? It’s the women, the employees of the company who say, “I’ve got an idea. There’s a better way to do this. How about if we consider a new approach to address this situation?”

How is it working?

LP: Very well. When I started as executive sponsor of the Minnesota hub of the Medtronic Women’s Network four years ago, there were approximately 900 members in the organization. Today we have more than 2000 members in this hub and this group serves all the women in Minnesota. Our employees feel free to bring their ideas to the table and to operationalize those ideas. By the way, the Men Advocating Change group didn’t start with Omar, it was started by two sales reps within the organization.

Has it had an impact on your sales team?

LP: Yes. We see it in the President’s Club, the top sales people in the organization who get rewarded at the end of the year. In prior years, it was primarily men who were receiving those awards. The ratio has completely changed in some of our businesses, and now many women are receiving these awards. The men driving the Men Advocating Change initiative said that when women have opportunities to be leaders, it successfully impacts the business. It allows us to better serve our patients. The lightbulb went on for these two guys and they took the courageous step to start this program.

Do you think the medtech culture is different than other industries?

LP: I haven’t worked in other industries so it’s hard to say. My sense is that the issues are similar. There are companies who have really moved the needle, who I look to for ideas of how we might do something better.

What companies outside of medtech do you watch?

LP: One company I follow is Lockheed Martin. Their CEO is Marillyn Hewson. If you look at the performance they’ve had in aerospace, it is truly impressive. Like many tech industries, years ago it was a primarily a male-dominated organization.

In the survey, 54% of the medtech executive women stated that women above the director level did not receive the same pay as their male colleagues. How has Medtronic addressed this?

LP: At Medtronic, we’ve done a fair amount of research with our peer groups to understand if there are pay differences. All companies need to be very mindful and vigilant of this issue. Our SVP of human resources does internal audits to find out if there are issues of discrepancy in pay and overall incentives for females vs. males. We are aggressive at addressing those issues.

Does Medtronic have programs that allow flexible schedules?

LP: One of your survey results stated there is a stigma around women needing more flexible schedules for family needs. I believe that men and women need to spend more time with their families today. It’s not just a female thing. We need to be attentive and introspective about this issue because the balance of work and personal life is important to ensuring employee engagement. If the balance gets out of whack, regardless if you’re male or female, we won’t have the success with our employees that we need to keep our business moving forward.

Can you tell me more about flexible schedule programs?

LP: As leaders in the organization, we work to put programs in place that address flexible schedules for family needs. There’s a process within the company to ask for a flexible schedule. First, the employee and the manager must understand the impact of a flexible schedule on the business. The most important thing I’ve found in having a flexible schedule is agreeing on the goals and the deliverables of the employee. When that’s crystal clear, what are the expectations, and the schedule that the employee will follow? Then, the process will work, but it takes extra time to define clarity around the agreement.

When asked about power and respect in the survey, the majority of women executives felt they had as much as their male peers.  What makes this finding different from the rest of the survey?

LP: I’m not surprised. How do you get power and impact? People who consistently achieve business outcomes have more power, impact, and influence over organizational direction, and become leaders.

The next step for leaders is to appeal to the hearts and minds of employees by describing what our business outcomes should be. Why are we doing what we’re doing? Our common goal is to become a trusted partner within the organization and to say to our colleagues: “What can we do to achieve that outcome?” Finally, successful leaders invest in building the right team—finding the people who are capable of managing people to execute to the outcome.

Is positive change occurring in the medical device industry?

LP: Positive change is coming. There is work to be done but I believe momentum is on our side. For example, programs like the AdvaMed Women’s Executive Network Conference help people become aware of why it’s important to have a diverse team. This will make change occur.

What can we do collectively or individually to advocate change?

LP: One area where Medtronic is making change is to create more knowledge of the medical device business for everyone in the organization, and in particular, for women. When I meet with the employees I mentor, I have two pieces of advice. First, master your own job. Be the best you can be. Second, start learning how to get your finger on the pulse of the business. This is extremely important. To address this, we started a program called Sharpen Your Business Acumen.

Sharpen Your Business Acumen is a lecture series where we have female leaders speak to the organization. For example, we had a female leader, our treasurer, talk to us about how our financial operating plan works. There’s a science to this, and it’s different at every company. She gave a presentation on business fundamentals—how does debt work, how do we get loans from banks, why do we get loans from banks? How does cash flow at the company work?

In our latest presentation, a woman vice president of strategy and development presented on the topic: How do you bring products to market on a global basis? The Sharpen Your Business Acumen program has been hugely successful. We’ve been running it for a couple of years now. We started with approximately 50 women attending the sessions. At the last one, we had over 700 men and women calling in, coming in person, or watching on Medtronic TV.

Are there any metrics?

LP: We try to track the impact of our programs on our employees. Part of the Sharpen Your Business Acumen output was to create projects for problems within the business that need to be solved. We put those problems up on the internal website and asked people to volunteer above and beyond their current job to collaborate on solving a problem. The process allows different individuals to learn in new areas—you’re solving a problem that’s not a part of your own department. We had several important business problems—issues that our business leaders always had on their lists but could never get to. Seven of these business problems were posted on the website. Approximately 50 women volunteered to participate in the seven programs and out of that there have been a number of great stories. One woman came to me and said, “Because I participated in that program, I put the experience on my resume and I got a promotion to a new role.” Other people have told me that because they participated in the program, they were able to interview for a job outside of their discipline.

You can see we are very proud of the work we’re doing at Medtronic. Like all companies, we have a way to go. But, our current momentum is encouraging and I’m looking forward to seeing more progress as a result of our efforts.

Maria Shepherd is president of Medi-Vantage, a marketing and product development strategy consulting firm for the medical technology industry.

[Image courtesy of MEDTRONIC PLC]

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