Over 140 Years of Women at Lilly

When Colonel Lilly opened his small chemical manufacturing facility on Pearl Street in 1876, 25 percent of his workforce was female. Granted, the entire workforce that year consisted of just four people, but Caroline Kruger’s role in the fledgling business was as essential as any of the others to the success of the enterprise. Caroline was responsible for finishing and filling activities, an area of the business that was dominated by women for many decades. She was also responsible for bringing three of her sisters – Tillie, Emma, and Lizzie – into the business. While only two of the four were still employed by the company as late as 1908, it’s reasonable to assume that their long-term relationship with the company was a positive one for the family.

Over the ensuing decades, women continued to occupy jobs related to filling and finishing. Sadly, despite the fact that these women were often long-term employees with high degrees of expertise, few of them became even baseline supervisors. Those women who were given supervisory responsibilities were always relegated to supervising only other women.

There was no room for advancement beyond this base level of supervision until Dr. Mary Root became the first female research associate, a management position, in 1963. According to Dr. Root, she didn’t always feel welcome as a pioneering woman, but she loved what she was doing for the company so she pressed forward until she retired in 1985.

In the decades following Dr. Root’s appointment, women slowly broke away from the traditional roles they maintained within the company. While beauty contests were still used to select the next annual “Miss Employee Activities,” women began to break into other areas of the business. For example, the first US-based saleswomen were hired in 1973, and a female truck driver was hired in 1975. By 1995, two women, Karen Horn and Kathi Seifert, served on the Board of Directors, and Rebecca Goss was promoted to vice president and general counsel of the company.

Today, four women are on Lilly’s Board of Directors, and four women serve on the company’s Executive Committee. While these numbers do not represent parity with their male counterparts, it’s important to note that women are being hired and promoted throughout the business. Let’s hope that, in successive decades, hiring and promotion patterns follow the Colonel’s advice and “make it better and better.”