By Amy Halpern
When Rockville-based research company Westat decided it was time to add a fitness center to its eight-building campus 12 years ago, its employees led the charge, “coming up with the specs, the requirements, interviewing the companies that came in, being a part of the decision-making process,” says Donna Atkinson, one of Westat’s associate directors for behavioral health and health policy.
Making decisions is nothing new for staffers at the company: Since 1978, Westat has been 100% employee owned. “It makes you a little bit more committed to what you’re doing...because if you are successful you can reap the benefits directly,” says Atkinson, who has been with the company since 2003.
Women account for more than 700 of the 1,100 people who work at the company’s Rockville headquarters, and they make up 55% of the executive team. (Westat has offices in six other states.) Since the pandemic, nearly everyone has been working remotely, but they are all still making decisions together, including figuring out when to return to the office. “As [owners] of the company…it requires us to think about the business decisions that the company makes and being a part of that,” Atkinson says.
Ultimately, Atkinson is most proud of the work she gets to do at Westat. Over the past several years, her data research has involved COVID testing, the opioid crisis, and the effects of certain health interventions in reducing hypertension and diabetes in underserved communities.
Jeanne Rosenthal, a vice president for public health and epidemiology, has been at Westat for 42 years, and says her longevity “is a testimonial in itself” to the company’s collaborative culture and the sense of fulfillment everyone gets from the work they do. Findings from one of Rosenthal’s recent projects were published in The New England Journal of Medicine. It’s exciting, she says, to know that your work “can have an impact.”