In honor of Pride Month, we hear about the power of diversity and inclusion from Cassidy Martinez, provider of HCC services for JLABS and J&J. What happens when we embrace all aspects of ourselves at work?
My mother taught me that you never walk into a room with an apology. It’s advice that I’ve learned to live by--from coming out to my family in my teenage years, through my decade serving on a police force, to my recent move to Johnson & Johnson. What I’ve been impressed with at J&J, is that this company walks the walk. I was fortunate to get my foot in the door at JLABS, and they were supportive of my career development and move to a new role at J&J. They value me and they value diversity.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a very supportive and loving family. So at the age of 14 when my first girlfriend’s parents shipped her off to another country to undergo conversion therapy after finding out she was a lesbian, I walked into my mom’s room realizing I had to tell her about the situation--and that I was gay. Nervous and pacing the floor I repeated out loud, “I have to tell you something.” After what seemed like an eternity (and probably wearing a groove into the carpet), my mom sat me down, smiled and said, “I think I know what you want to tell me -- you’re gay.”
Relieved (and possibly a little teary-eyed…shhh don’t tell anyone), I looked up at her with a smirk and said, “Well thanks for stealing my thunder, lady!” She then hugged me, listened to my story, and took me to lunch to figure out how to help. Coming out to the rest of my family was much the same. It was just another moment in the day. My aunts, uncles, and cousins didn’t blink when I brought a girlfriend home for the first time, nor did they miss a beat when I told them I was going to be the first out student to bring her girlfriend to the Catholic high school prom.
I had the fairytale coming out story that I wish for every LGBTQ human out there. I attribute this to one of the lessons my mother taught my brother and I growing up: Never walk into a room carrying an apology for who you are and strive to act and speak from a place of genuine kindness, because you never know the battles someone else is fighting.
I continue to work to show up genuinely, fully, and without apology in my personal and professional life, often falling short and knowing that I can do better in any given moment. Admittedly, I often whisper to myself, “fake it till you make it,” knowing I am definitely a work in progress.
My career path has not exactly been the most linear. After college I embarked on a nearly 10-year career as a police officer, learning how to show up in many different ways for many different types of people. Some questioned my worth not only as a female, but also as a lesbian, at times treating my existence as an episode of the “L Word” for their entertainment. That said, I also worked with and met some of the kindest, most integrity-driven people I know on the police force.
During my time serving as a police officer, my mother suffered a devastating brain injury and simultaneously, after dealing with traumatic events and loss at work and the stress of being her caregiver, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I found myself at a crossroads. I had a choice: give up or show up.
Learning that I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was and coming to terms with my newly minted anxiety disorder was no easy feat. It’s helped me show up differently, with more empathy and more perspective. And some days I still struggle. But I realized that walking into a room without an apology meant embracing and making room at the table for all aspects of myself, including my gender, sexuality, race, anxiety, and history.
With that hard-earned perspective, I changed careers, became a licensed attorney, and now work in Healthcare Compliance for Johnson & Johnson. Each day I strive to embody the lessons that my mother taught and continues to teach me about showing up in life. And let’s be honest, although it is not easy, I am not graceful at it, and I often fail spectacularly, if there is one thing I have found valuable, it is to never apologize for who I am when I walk into a room, and to hold my head high knowing that I have something to bring to the conversation. Moving to a company like Johnson & Johnson that works toward embracing diversity, it’s my job each day to show up in a way that’s fully authentic, for myself and all of you.