For the last decade or more, those who study and survey large employers and their employees report more highly engaged employees drive stronger business performance than non- or lesser engaged employees. These employees are also generally ‘happier’ about their work and lives. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a proven method to increase engagement.


WAVE – Women of Avanos Empowered – launched as Avanos’ first ERG in August 2021. The group emerged from the company’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) Council, which was established to ensure Avanos employees felt valued, respected and heard.


“We knew there was a need for WAVE when over 500 employees joined our kick-off call on August 17th , 2021,” Jennifer Barrett told us.


Ms. Barrett, Interventional Pain Account Consultant, serves as WAVE’s President – one of the eight leadership positions created for individuals seeking to show and grow their leadership skills. Six WAVE chairs manage their committees’ quarterly schedule and budget, and each lead 7-10 direct reports.

In addition to Ms. Barrett, the WAVE leadership team includes:

  • Corinne Baker, Digestive Health Account Consultant (WAVE Vice President),
  • Rebecca Brown, Senior Packaging Engineer (WAVE Communications Chair)
  • Amber Buchanan, Digestive Health Senior Product Manager (WAVE Networking and Events Chair)
  • Hayley Dolan, Digestive Health Account Consultant (WAVE Working Parents’ Chair) 
  • Shalini Patel, Senior Supplier Quality Engineer (WAVE Topics of the Tide Chair)
  • Nancy Vanderoost, HR Director – Europe (WAVE Mentorship Chair)
  • Jennifer Davidenko, Interventional Pain Inside Sales Account Manager & Karla Middleman, Interventional Pain Clinical Educator (WAVE Community Service Co-Chairs)


Michelle Scharfenberg, Avanos Senior Vice President and Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer, serves as the WAVE Executive Sponsor.


“WAVE’s creation was unique as we ‘let the data lead’ its formation,” Barrett said. “We surveyed all global Avanos employees and asked them what they wanted to see out of a women’s employee resource group. We received over 200 responses, the data from which helped us form our mission, vision, and committees to make sure that this group really is ‘for the people’ and ‘by the people.’ It even helped us select a name and create our brand.”


According to Ms. Barrett, WAVE’s mission is to globally connect, support, and develop women at all levels in their careers and lives at Avanos, by creating and sponsoring networking, mentoring, and career development opportunities.​


WAVE’s vision is to promote a culture that supports global Avanos strategic initiatives by:

  • Engaging employees through strengthening diversity and inclusion,
  • Fostering meaningful relationships to build supportive networks,
  • Driving talent management and retention, 
  • Supporting professional development, and
  • Creating opportunities for volunteering to support the community. 


“My personal favorite part is the ‘how’ we make this happen and that is through our six committees,” Ms. Barrett added.


Those committees include:


  • Topics of the Tide (TOTT): Panel discussions to delve into topics on the minds of employees. Since WAVE’s launch, TOTT has hosted seminars about Leading as a Female at Avanos, Personal Branding, and Breaking the Bias as a part of International Women’s Day. The impact has allowed leadership and professional development to be more personable and accessible, both in the office and remotely.

  • Mentorship: This committee has established two 12-month programs to help encourage collaboration, support, and personal growth. The Mentorship program pairs mentors and mentees together on a journey to support and elevate professional development. The Peer-to-Peer program connects employees with each other to act as accountability and support partners, while under the leadership of a professional coach.

  • Working Parents: This committee helped create “New Parent Kits” that are sent to Avanos parents in the US following the birth or adoption of a baby. They also hosted a session discussing the benefits of the company’s ON-Q* Pain Relief System following C-sections. ON-Q* is an opioid-sparing alternative that helps control pain while decreasing adverse effects such as over-sedation to both mother and baby.

  • Networking and Events: This committee came up with creative ways to connect employees across the globe, despite the challenges of the pandemic. One of their initiatives is a quarterly book club. They also hosted two large events in March, a welcome breakfast with a guest motivational speaker at the annual national sales meeting and an in-person networking session to celebrate International Women’s Day at the headquarters office.

  • Community Service: This is a newer team that is looking for ways to give back to communities around the globe. This committee so far has sponsored two donation drives, which allowed members to donate inspirational books for girls and gently used business-professional clothing to help women in need start their careers. They are also working to set up a sponsored fundraiser campaign through nonprofit “Project Hope” to aid the organization’s efforts in providing medical supplies and support for Ukrainian refugees.

  • Communications: This small but mighty team oversees WAVE’s brand and related  materials, communicates internally and via social media on WAVE events and activities, and keeps the group’s internal homepage up to date.


Since its launch, over 200 Avanos employees across the globe have joined as official WAVE members. The group has already hosted several seminars, in addition to introducing mentor and peer-to-peer coaching programs.


“We cannot wait to see what the future holds and what our WAVEs will do,” Barrett said. “While additional data on impact will take time to generate, people remember how you make them feel. We thrive on doing small things well and letting our passion lead.”


Surround yourself with the doers and let your passion lead

When asked what others can learn about the building of WAVE for their own, ‘like,’ initiatives, Ms. Barrett told Write2Market’s Paul Snyder, “Surround yourself with the doers, the people that will make it happen, and let their passion lead because seemingly small things need detailed time and attention. Get that passion into your life, into your work and focus on it. It will almost certainly make you and your colleagues happier and more excited about their team, their work and themselves.


“When it comes to resources, know that your boss is human, too. Ask for what you want and why you want it. Come with a plan and be open to feedback. If you come prepared and passionate, it’s hard for them to say no.


“WAVE has taken Avanos by storm, thanks in no small part to our leadership team including our CEO Joe Woody. Actions speak loudly. People are listening, learning and you never know just when, or in what amounts, you can inspire others.”


We thank Ms. Barrett for sharing this story with us, we thank Avanos for their support of WAVE’s powerful activities and mission, and for their support of Southeast Life Sciences.


About Southeast Life Sciences

SLS cultivates, convenes, and connects the Southeast entrepreneurial ecosystem to foster life science innovation & investment across the region. We’re the network that brings all southeastern life science innovation in one place, including our flagship event, AdvanSE. The 2022 edition of AdvanSE is May 25-27 at the Hotel Avalon in Alpharetta, Ga.


About Avanos

Avanos is a medical device company focused on delivering clinically superior breakthrough solutions that will help patients get back to the things that matter. We believe a difference in our products, combined with a difference in how we work, communicate and partner, can change the entire world.