How 3M is supporting women at all levels during the pandemic
Mar 4, 2021

The past year has been tough on everyone in the workforce — women in particular. Women account for 55% of U.S. job losses during the pandemic, and those who remain in the workforce report higher levels of burnout, exhaustion and pressure to work more.

At 3M, retention of women is improving — we saw a decrease in turnover among our female employee population in 2020 compared to 2019. We’re also proud that the average tenure of a global 3Mer is 11 years. Despite these findings, we know all 3Mers are still dealing with a variety of struggles: parents worldwide are facilitating distance learning or hybrid-model school schedules, supporting family members and adjusting to a work environment that’s been flipped on its head. The pressure to do it all has never been higher.

We all support the idea of work-life balance, but for many of us, work priorities seem too important to step away. Five 3Mers show us how, even while working on one of our most pressing and urgent projects: providing personal protective equipment (PPE) during a global pandemic, they are able to meet their personal and professional goals. If they can do it, we can do it.


How Nikki McCollough works smarter

Since Nikki McCollough came to 3M’s Personal Safety Division (PSD) 24 years ago, she’s been developing life-saving PPE. “2020 became busier than any other year, which I didn’t imagine was possible.” As the PSD global application engineering and regulatory affairs director, Nikki dealt with international meetings and urgent customer requests, all while helping to scale up N95 respirator production.

Nikki also parents two teens who have their own needs and struggles as they adjust to a hybrid learning model. “I have to leave work in the middle of the day and drive them to school because they have something to do and the school is trying to space it out,” she said.

Navigating the pandemic as a mom and 3Mer, Nikki emphasized she could count on the company’s and her team’s understanding and flexibility. “I feel supported by 3M — and this isn’t just during COVID-19. The way we operate is very forgiving,” she said. “I try to be very clear about how I have to work, and what works for me and my family’s schedule.” Globally, 3Mers have the option to use FlexAbility, a simple, individual agreement with their supervisor for a flexible work practice that maximizes professional and personal activity.1

When the balancing act gets draining, Nikki can lean on other 3M parents going through the same thing. “I’ll reach out to a colleague and see if they have a few minutes to talk it through with me — that’s true of personal things as well as professional things.” She encourages working moms at 3M to do the same. “Reaching out and making the most of the community you have is super important.”


How Barb Hauge leads fearlessly

As the operations manager of the 3M Aberdeen plant, Barb Hauge was a driving force behind the acceleration of N95 respirator production in 2020. The work was new and difficult, but she was eager to conquer the challenge with her team.

“Early on in the year, it was just figuring out how to manage the chaos,” Barb said. “What came from that first phone call turned into what was very much a humanitarian effort.”

As the pandemic progressed, 3M expanded the Aberdeen plant, acquired new equipment and brought in extra hands to support the enormous production volume — and Barb led through it all. “3M shifted resources like I’ve never seen before. They brought in production operators from 18 other locations to help support different projects,” Barb said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in my career.”

“It’s really exciting to be part of a team that’s challenging the norm and driving continuous improvement.”

Barb knew that in order to get it all done, she had to take care of a team who was working as tirelessly as she was. “We went from 24/5 production to 24/7,” she said, noting she’s been conscious of the stress the work was putting on plant employees. “I worked with our Employee Assistance Program representative to figure out how to keep the workforce engaged and motivated, how to instill pride in everybody,” she said. Barb’s biggest advice to other leaders is simple: “Recognize and reward people for the goals they achieve.”


How Ellen White finds flexibility

Ellen White, 3M global business director for respiratory products, has a high-profile, high-pressure role: leading 3M Personal Safety Division’s emergency response team. That job is coupled with another very important job at home, parenting two teenage daughters.

Even on her busiest days, filled with meetings with three different executive vice presidents, Ellen knows that she can put her daughters’ needs first. “I could call CEO Mike Roman and say, ‘I can only meet you in 30 minutes, I need to make breakfast for my daughter,’ and he would say, ‘I get it! That’s fine,’” she shared.

Ellen’s anecdote is proof that 3M employees have top-down understanding and support from leadership. This trust allows her to focus on what’s important at home while managing unprecedented work needs. “We have emergencies on a normal basis with natural disasters, like earthquakes and wildfires,” she said. “But we’ve never had the entire world in crisis at one time.”

In 2020, as industry-wide demand for N95 respirators continued to soar, Ellen and her team were forced to make tough decisions. “We are working month by month to make sure we prioritize product to its highest possible purpose. And I couldn’t have felt more supported by the company in being a leader in the COVID-19 response.”


How Linda Doerr works with intention

In 2020, 3Mers in Canada shipped 25 million respirators into the Canadian health care sector — a 435% increase over 2019. Linda Doerr, the national channel sales manager for Medical Division, was at the forefront of it all. “For the first few months it was go-go-go, and then I took a step back and thought, ‘I need to start to stabilize this. I need to find balance so I can be my best.’”

Linda felt confident she could work in a way that suited her unique needs. “I felt very supported by leadership to take breaks. We instituted a ‘no meeting Wednesday’ for our division, which was great.” Linda also encouraged her team to use FlexAbility throughout the pandemic. “I made sure my team knew they had options. I said, ‘If you need to juggle your schedule in order to take care of things going on at home, I completely support that.’”

For Linda, 2020 was also a big year for self-care. She used wellness dollars from her 3M benefits plan to put together a home gym and begin her fitness journey. She also tapped 3M resources to help care for her mental health — specifically, a company-provided Calm app subscription to meditate and relax before bed.

“3M understands that there are things besides work that matter, too,” Linda said. Even on the days she felt overwhelmed by work, Linda knew 3M would support her when she logged off to take care of herself with a workout or an uninterrupted meal. “The biggest thing I want women to remember is that they don’t have to do it all. I love that mental health is something that’s more talked about at 3M. It’s important for people to know that there’s no criticism about raising that flag.”


How Simone Bonello learned to prioritize herself

Simone Bonello sums up her year simply: “I found myself needing to teach fractions while allocating respirator inventory.” As she navigated a new work reality, 3M Canada's activation marketer for disposable and reusable respirators was also supervising distance learning for her 11- and 12-year-old daughters — and she made it work out of necessity.

“I became really good at the juggling act of helping my daughters with their distance learning while needing to work beside them,” she said. “At times, I was making dinner while on conference calls. I had to multitask work and family life and knew when was an OK time to step away to do something my family needed.”

As Simone managed time-consuming and urgent inventory allocations, her fellow 3Mers were there to help. “Several of my colleagues reached out to check in on how I was managing and to take non-COVID-19-related tasks off my plate. At times they encouraged me to just step away from my computer and get outside for some fresh air,” she said. “It was really critical during those intense, stressful times.”

Simone encourages fellow female 3Mers to do the same. “As women, we often put ourselves last, but we really must prioritize ourselves in order to manage everything and maintain our own health and wellness. Do the best you can and ask for help.”


How 3M has increased employee support

The well-being of all 3Mers around the globe is a recurring topic of discussion amongst leadership, especially during the pandemic. We know the burdens our employees have and continue to encounter in this environment, so our focus is to ensure 3Mers have the right tools and resources to succeed. We’ve increased our employee support resources, with an emphasis on support for caregivers, and continued our focus on enhancing FlexAbility.

Interested in joining a company that champions diversity, equity and inclusion? Visit for more information. 


1 Note: 3M employees are encouraged to use FlexAbility, as permitted by job expectations and agreement with managers. Not all FlexAbility arrangements may be possible; they depend on an employee’s work responsibilities and local requirements.

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