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Be Yourself, Be an Ally, Change the World: 3 Angles on Allyship From a Social Justice Advocate Be Yourself, Be an Ally, Change the World: 3 Angles on Allyship From a Social Justice Advocate

Sheryl Knepp is a social justice advocate and Director, Compliance and Data Integrity at Janssen R&D. Find out what allyship means to her, what it looks like in practice—and why she thinks leaning into it will help us change the future of health for good.

1. Allyship: A “Working” Definition

Allyship is a relatively new term, one not everyone will be familiar with. Sheryl defines it succinctly. “Good allyship is a willingness to not center yourself and your own experiences, but to instead listen to, trust, act on, and amplify the feelings and experiences of the people around you.”

Of course, there are many different ways to be an ally, as Sheryl is quick to point out, but they all share some common ground. Here's a quick synopsis of what allyship looks like in practice:

  • Treating the challenges that other people are dealing with as your own, and putting their voices first, too
  • Consciously working to confer the benefits and privileges that you enjoy to those who do not
  • Seeking to understand the perspectives of others, while also recognizing that there are real differences in lived experiences—and you don’t fully know what it feels like in their shoes
  • Committing to ongoing self-examination, learning and introspection
  • Standing up for and speaking up about the things you believe in
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Good allyship is good for everyone. That’s why we’re so committed to bringing it to life.

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2. Where Allyship Begins: Sheryl’s Journey

Today, Sheryl serves as acting chair of a diversity, equity and inclusion team at Janssen Biologics in R&D. But taking action to advance social justice is nothing new for Sheryl.

“Whenever I hear about bad things happening in the world,” she said, “my first reaction always has been, ‘What can I do to help change this?’”

In the past, however, it was primarily an identity she donned outside of the workforce, keeping her personal and professional lives separate. Last year, that changed.

“I was deeply disturbed and outraged by the murder of George Floyd, of course, but look, I’m also a white woman, with all of the privilege that entails, and I saw how colleagues who had different backgrounds than my own were processing this tragedy and carrying the event with them in a different way.”

Attending an event hosted by the African-American Ancestry Leadership Council, an employee resource group at Johnson & Johnson, around that time, Sheryl heard a Black colleague say they felt “masked.”

“This person didn’t feel like they could speak up about what they were feeling,” she recalled, “which just made me so upset, because we need everyone to feel welcome and safe and supported here."

She went on: "The other thing is, it’s unrealistic to think people can set a tragedy like the murder of George Floyd aside, and pretend that it didn’t happen or that the pain isn’t there, simply because they’ve stepped through the door at work. That’s basically how a lot of companies were thinking about things like politics, race, privilege and identity in the past.”

And that's exactly what Sheryl is working so hard to change.

3. A "Ship" With a Universal Mooring

Internships. Mentorship. Sponsorship. Despite sharing a suffix with these, allyship should be thought of as a priority of a different order. It doesn’t sit in any one fixed location on the org chart, for example. It’s everywhere, cutting across everything we do.

“Individuals need to be good allies,” Sheryl explained, “because otherwise you don’t have the right ingredients to foster supportive, collaborative teams. Managers need to be good allies, because that makes employees feel recognized and engaged.”

She added, “Good allyship is good for everyone. That’s why we’re so committed to bringing it to life."

The education team she's a part of is a good example of that. "We're teaching people how to have hard conversations, how to identify the types of things—like moments of micro-aggression—that unfortunately, and often casually, do happen in workplaces and finally how to stand up, both for yourself and with others, when it’s warranted.”

This second point, in particular, seems close to the heart of what allyship is about. It's a commitment anchored in values, but it’s also a kind of presence that other people can feel. And it might call upon you to act.

Sheryl is ready to heed that call. Are you?

Ally Yourself With Our Mission Today

Bringing diverse perspectives together to drive innovation is part of our DNA at Johnson & Johnson. As Sheryl put it, “If we all thought the same, frankly, we’d be a terrible company! Different perspectives and experiences are a key ingredient in innovation.” So count on finding an inclusive and supportive culture when you join our team—a place where people not only want you to be your authentic self, but share your passion for spearheading positive change.

So if you're ready to be yourself, be an ally and change the world for good, we are, too, because we think those missions are one and the same.

Check out all of the open positions at Johnson & Johnson right now. Plus, consider signing up for our Global Talent Hub. It's an easy way to stay in touch, learn more about life at Johnson & Johnson and even get notifications about jobs that might interest you in the future.

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