A "Courageous Conversation" About Allyship

Updated: Apr 1, 2019

By John Sullivan, Vice President of Global Marketing Services, Roche Diabetes Care, Inc.

Thanks to IWL for delivering the "Activating Male Allies" workshop last Friday morning at the Katz, Sapper & Miller Conference Center. After my impactful experience at the August IWL Women’s Leadership Conference, I jumped at the chance to bring some of my male colleagues from Roche Diabetes Care to another IWL event – this one specifically focused on helping men be Allies.  While smaller and shorter than the August event, there was still plenty of learning to be had.   

Several of the skills and mindsets we discussed and worked on in exercises are fully applicable regardless of gender – for instance having “courageous conversations.” 

But having this setting and structure to really think about and work on skills and mindset in the context of being a better Ally for the women on my team and in my company, made the time more meaningful.  This was especially true with the hard facts provided about the increased business results achievable with better gender balance in top leadership.

In the short time we were in the workshop, we worked on assessing where we are today and on defining and committing to concrete steps to increase our Allyship.   I took away several tools and reminders for what I will do differently and why.  The two thoughts that have stuck with me the most are about keeping my focus on these issues much more front of mind and about the real partnership required between women and men.

Being an Ally isn’t a workshop activity, it’s an ongoing activity.

I know that the organizers were sensitive to asking us for more than a few hours.  You never feel like you have enough time for workshops like this and it is hard to block a full morning on your calendar.  However, once you are there, you realize that in 3 hours you are really only scratching the surface of what you need to work on.  One of my takeaways, which is really just building on my commitment coming out of the August IWL Women’s Leadership Conference, is that I have to stop thinking about being an Ally only during performance reviews or when there are job openings. 

Being an Ally must become an ongoing activity, then it can become a mindset, and only then can it become second nature. 

Certainly I have plenty of room for growth and these workshops are great reminders to keep at the task all the time.

Focusing on Women’s Leadership is a partnership between women and men.  

I had truly appreciated feeling so welcomed at the August Conference.  Kim Graham Lee, IWL CEO, and many of the speakers and panel members emphasized the importance of including men in the conversations and as part of the change movement.  Still, I had expected that the follow-up Activating Male Allies workshop would be all guys.  It was a pleasant surprise that the partnership “red thread” continued with a strong showing from women leaders at the Allies workshop.  Having such committed women partners to work with in our small group exercises and to add commentary in our full workshop discussions increased the value of the morning considerably.

Thanks again IWL and I look forward to future workshops and conferences!


John Sullivan is the Vice President of Global Marketing Services at Roche Diabetes Care, Inc. John started at Roche in 2001 and has worked in Business Development, Strategy, Product Management and Marketing roles. Currently he is accountable for Roche Diabetes Care Branding, Global Marketing Campaigns, Global Payer Marketing, and Global Marketing Operations. Prior to Roche, John worked in Sales, Operations, Business Development, and Strategy roles for companies such as Procter and Gamble, General Mills, and Brightpoint Inc. John received a BA in Finance from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA in Operations Management from the University of Minnesota.

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