Impact & Opinions | Tionchar & Tuairimí

Spotlight on: Anna Rafferty, Johnson & Johnson 

Spotlight on: Anna Rafferty, Johnson & Johnson 

15 December 22
 | 12 MINS

“Authenticity, self-awareness and resilience …the key to successful leadership, lies not only in knowledge, but in how we encourage and mentor our teams to successfully navigate the  workplace,” says Anna Rafferty, Director of Strategy at Johnson & Johnson.

Born in Cork, Anna grew up on the Barna Road in Galway and attended Salerno Secondary School in Salthill, where she made lifelong friends. Growing up in a supportive environment with her dad John, who sadly recently passed away, her mother Marie and her four siblings meant that Anna was encouraged to believe that anything was possible if she put her mind to it.

“I always had an interest in Biology, Chemistry and languages in school. Biotechnology was an exciting new course in University of Galway (at the time UCG) in the 90s and it was an obvious choice for me as it offered cutting-edge science, alongside languages and business studies. I loved the blend of subjects, which made it a really well-rounded degree for a small class of 25. We were expertly led by Professor Pat Morgan, Dean of Science 1998 -2004 and the graduates of this course over many years remain a very tightly knit community because of Pat. I naively thought that everyone had a ‘Pat’ in university. I recall the first day in university when she said that there will be jobs aplenty for Biotech graduates. We were all a bit sceptical, but they could really see the life sciences explosion on the horizon and the key role that Ireland could play in this regard. I made many great friends and many of whom are still in my professional network. 

After graduation in 1997, I was keen to start working and after a short stint in the bank, I began in the life sciences commercial sector. I worked for Knoll (now Abbott) and Pharmacia (now Pfizer), before settling in Johnson & Johnson 19 years ago, where I remain today. Over the course of my career, I have always been open to new roles, and embraced change and opportunities that came my way.  

Johnson & Johnson has a significant footprint on campus here in Ireland, which has gone from strength to strength over the last 85 years. Johnson & Johnson is an exciting place to be. We focus on playing our part in changing the trajectory of health for humanity. We have 10 sites across five counties, employing over 5,000 people in different sectors and functions of the business from manufacturing to R&D, technology services to finance and customer service to marketing, to mention a few. Significantly, we have an R&D centre here in Galway ‘Cerenovus’, who are leaders in neurovascular care. Cerenovus is at the forefront of developing a broad portfolio of innovative medical devices for the treatment of stroke,  which can be devastating for patients.  

Women are continuously and disproportionately missing from the STEM workforce and we must build a diverse scientific community that reflects the world in which we live.

I have been in the role of Johnson & Johnson Campus Ireland Director of Strategy since 2019, when we set about creating a strategic vision for all of our businesses here – for example we focus on Research and innovation, Sustainability and Talent with a keen eye on our competitiveness and shaping the Irish ecosystem in this regard.     Additionally, we want to ensure that we are creating a stronger sense of community and belonging for all our employees. In 2015 we launched our WiSTEM2D (Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Manufacturing and Design) initiative in Ireland.  We believe women can be catalysts for creating healthier people, healthier communities and a healthier world. 

Whilst currently enjoying an interesting and fulfilling career in STEM, a priority and passion for me now is to promote the importance of women in STEM. Women are continuously and disproportionately missing from the STEM workforce and we must build a diverse scientific community that reflects the world in which we live. I lead the University Pillar for the WiSTEM2D programme here in Ireland, where we partner with five universities – University of Galway being one – to offer women in STEM undergraduate courses the opportunity to see what a career in STEM looks like. Our objective is to open their eyes to careers in STEM through 1:1 mentorship, visits to our sites and career workshops. It has been hugely successful and we remain as committed as ever – the icing on the cake has been to see some of these women join the Johnson & Johnson workforce here also. 


Crucially, don’t be threatened by people on your team who are more expert than you on certain topics. Deferring to them is a show of strength not weakness.

Women should continue to be visible role models coming forward with the confidence to be their authentic selves and to bring their whole selves to work. In terms of advice, I have been fortunate with excellent training, mentors and sponsors over the years, which has helped me hugely. Early on in Johnson & Johnson, one memorable management development course taught me the benefits of being confident in my authentic self when leading people and reacting naturally and inclusively to the situation in front of you. Self-awareness is key – knowing yourself, what you are good at and your development areas. Crucially, don’t be threatened by people on your team who are more expert than you on certain topics. Deferring to them is a show of strength not weakness.  

Building resilience is key to managing and navigating workplace politics. Things will not always go your way, but having an ability to read situations and emotions well is undoubtedly a benefit. Taking an interest in those around you is critical and being willing to share your viewpoint is vital in creating an inclusive and productive work environment. Having a strong network where you can have considered, and honest conversations always helps overcome any conflict in the workplace.  

At any stage in your career, one of the hardest but most important things to find is ‘white space’ or time to think. Pre-pandemic, I spent more time commuting to Dublin or Cork and the time in the car was really helpful in planning the day ahead or figuring things out. As we transition to more hybrid working, finding ways to protect this time will be vital. 

As a leader, I believe that uninterrupted quality time is the most important thing that you can give people. Time where you are actively listening and present without distractions. It is simple, but transformative in the workplace. Also, continuously honing your communication skills and style is worthwhile to ensure confidence, credibility and strong engagement. Most of all, believe in what you do and how you are making a difference. 



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