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Medtronic improves diversification of its sales forces


Medtronic’s innovative programs helps reshape the company’s sales force.

Medtronic improves diversification of its sales forces
Ursula Douglas recalls being the only woman on her sales team and one of the few women of color working as a Medtronic senior interventional sales representative in 2015. In fact, Medtronic's sales force in the United States was one of the least diverse.

“The team I worked with was fantastic,” said Douglas. “But I just wasn’t seeing many others in sales who looked like me.”

Today, the company's sales force in the United States looks very different, with more women and people of color on the front lines of global health care, where they play a critical role. Sales teams educate clinicians about the company's life-saving products and therapies, as well as assist surgeons in the operating room. The company's sales organization has increased its representation of women and people of color by more than two percentage points in the last few years.

“We know that there’s still work to be done, but we’re making big strides in being able to increase minority representation,” said Carlton Weatherby, Medtronic’s Vice President and General Manager of its Spine and Biologics business.

”We’re being really intentional about this because the markets we serve are increasingly more diverse today than they were before. There’s an expectation from our customers and our patients that they are seen and represented across the aisle or on the other side of the table.”

Recruiting outside the box
To advance diversity in the sales team, it was necessary to consider not only gender and ethnic demographics, but also diverse backgrounds and experience. Medtronic prioritized its ongoing collaboration with key sales industry organizations, including the National Sales Network (NSN), a non-profit organization that empowers Black sales professionals.

The company aggressively recruited talent with sales backgrounds from other industries by establishing a significant presence at the NSN's annual conference. Dontae Fedrick is one of many Medtronic employees who began their careers with NSN.

“I walked in, met with recruiters and executives, and the same day I walked out with a job offer,” said Fedrick, who used to work in health club sales and trauma sales, but now works as a Medtronic spine sales rep. “In my short three years with the company, I’ve already earned a couple of promotions, and I’ve been able to complete my MBA through Medtronic, which has been really great for my career.”

These targeted recruiting efforts and deliberate actions to remove barriers resulted in significant changes in the demographics of several sales teams across the company. For example, the Advanced Surgical Instruments team filled 30 of the 52 new associate level roles with women in the last year, and 8% of the new hires were ethnically diverse.
Starting with leaders.

For long-term change, the United States sales team needed to look beyond diversity in associate level roles. Amy Hurst, the $1 billion Hernia and Wound Management business's U.S. national sales director, initiated changes within her own leadership team, with three of her first five hires coming from underrepresented groups.

“By starting with diverse leadership hires, I try to demonstrate to the team that diversity and inclusion is a priority for me – whether it’s reflected in gender, ethnicity, experience, education or something else,” said Hurst. “It’s my hope that my actions embolden ― and set the expectation ― for others to embrace diversity and inclusion as well.”

However, the larger sales leadership pipeline needed to be examined as well. A lack of diversity in candidates for their Emerging Sales Leader program, which helps prepare high-potential sales talent for management roles, was identified by an internal team. The team collaborated with HR partners and leaders of employee diversity networks to raise awareness of the program and drive a more inclusive nomination process and candidate pool.

The resulting changes earned the Brandon Hall Group an industry award after ethnic diversity among Emerging Sales Leader program participants increased from 11% in fiscal year 2019 to 44% in fiscal year 2022. This included an 85% increase in ethnically diverse men and a 100% increase in ethnically diverse women. Overall, the number of women in the program quadrupled.

Despite the program’s success, there was still more work to do.

Charting non-traditional management pathways
The diversity disparity in the sales teams of some businesses was larger than others.

When Carlton Weatherby took over as Vice President and General Manager of the Spine and Biologics business in 2021, he had 55 of his 61 sales district managers who were white men.

“It was cultural inertia,” said Weatherby. “It’s been harder for employees who don’t fit a certain demographic to find opportunities to lead at these levels. Over the last few years, we’ve started building up that talent pool and creating new non-traditional paths of getting into that level of leadership.”

The District Manager Development Program (DDP) is one of those new, non-traditional paths, designed to identify and provide opportunities for more diverse candidates to pursue district manager roles by removing barriers such as not having specific experience in the Spine division or with Medtronic. Ten candidates were enrolled at the start of a 12- to 16-month training program that will eventually lead to positions as district managers.

One of these candidates is Meghan Markle. She wondered if and how she could advance her career at Medtronic after six years as an Advanced Energy sales rep. She was then chosen to be a member of the DDP.

 “You hear people say that you need to jump companies to get to that next level,” said Markle, a graduate of the company’s Emerging Sales Leader program. “This is a huge opportunity to step into management that I probably wouldn’t have had before, not having spine sales experience.”

Bringing about sustainable change
Ursula Douglas was drawn back to Medtronic by the opportunity to advance to management. She left her job as a Medtronic interventional sales rep in 2018 to start her own consulting firm. But when a former colleague invited her to rejoin the DDP, she couldn't say no.

 “This program gives me a unique opportunity to learn the inner workings of how to be a people leader,” said Douglas. “That’s something I wear as a badge of honor. Mentorship is an exciting component of this opportunity for me ― to hire and work with individuals to help them reach their professional and personal goals.”

“Not only are we recruiting talent, but we are also fostering this sense of belonging within our existing talent to know that this matters to us,” said Weatherby. “We talk a lot about leading the industry with game-changing technologies and products that improve patients’ lives, but that innovation also should apply to what I consider to be our most important and valuable asset, which is our people.”