Alumni Spotlight: Savaria Harris ’99
Vivian Webb alumna Savaria (Brandy) Harris believes in elevating women. In fact, she’s made it her personal and professional mission. In addition to her role as Johnson & Johnson’s Senior Regulatory Counsel, Harris is the creator and executive producer of WLI ELEVATE, a first-of-its-kind Johnson & Johnson initiative that seeks to transform and inspire women through conversations, charitable support, and small-business partnerships.
Launched in the fall of 2020, WLI ELEVATE began as a series of conversations hosted by Johnson & Johnson’s Women’s Leadership & Inclusion (WLI) employee resource group, based on the principle of transforming and inspiring women through open dialogue. The program has featured guest speakers in senior leadership at the healthcare, pharmaceutical, and beauty megabrand, as well as diverse women leaders and luminaries from outside of the company, including Vera Wang, Jennifer Garner, Nicole Kidman, Ellen Pompeo, British self-care champion Iskra Lawrence, founder of the #MeToo movement Tarana Burke, and Holocaust survivor and bestselling author Dr. Edith Eger.
As the world grappled with an historic pandemic, lockdowns, and civil unrest, speakers and participants first came to WLI ELEVATE as a place to express themselves privately and to have authentic conversations. “Looking back, I can definitely see how this style of conversation particularly resonated last year,” Harris recalls. “People were isolated during the lockdowns and yet still very interested in connecting genuinely. That combination, in addition to the very intentional elements of the program’s design, set the stage for conversations that were supportive in allowing people to share openly and, in certain cases, more openly than they’d ever shared before.”
Last year, access to WLI ELEVATE was exclusively available to Johnson & Johnson employees. “Speakers and participants were sharing openly and it was a brand-new program. So, there was a real desire to tread carefully in honoring everyone’s privacy and protecting the confidentiality of the space,” Harris explains. “Interestingly, the feedback was so positive that the speakers and participants became really proud of conversations, and that grew a desire to share portions of their conversations outside of the company.”
Now in its third season, segments of the speaker series are available for public viewing via WLI ELEVATE’s social media channels on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. “Viewers can see women from around the world sharing their stories and touching on universal themes like relationships, adversity, resilience, acceptance, and forgiveness,” Harris says. “Whether the guest speakers are external or internal to the company, we are learning things about one another’s life and perspective that we did not previously know. It’s been humbling and an honor to host that kind of space.”
The purpose behind these authentic conversations is inspiration and transformation. “By learning that everyone, especially women that we admire, have also struggled with the very same thoughts, questions, and interpersonal challenges that we have, it makes it clear that those experiences are human but not a reflection of our capabilities.” This point was illustrated in a Season 3 conversation about vulnerability, moderated by Harris, that featured fashion designer Vera Wang. “Brené Brown has written that vulnerability is having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome,” Harris says, leading into the segment. In turn, Wang admits, “I have been vulnerable every day of my life,” and goes on to share that after rebounding from her perceived failure to achieve her dream of being an Olympic figure skater and, later, from yet another perceived failure to become the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue after 17 years at the magazine, she launched her wildly successful eponymous company when she was 40 years old. “In a way, I’ve been defined as much by what I didn’t attain as by things I dared to try,” Wang reflects.
Like those she spotlights, Harris is a leader herself and relates personally to the stories of the women featured on the WLI ELEVATE program. At Webb, Harris was a top student, as well as Class President in her junior year and Editor-in-Chief of Yearbook in her senior year. She says that her experience at Webb was formative to her work and success. “As Vivian Webb is a girls’ school, having that focus on girls and young women leaders was foundational,” Harris shares. After graduating from Vivian Webb, Harris went to Yale University, where she majored in History, and went on to Georgetown University for law school. She was a litigation partner at the law firms of Kirkland & Ellis and DLA Piper before joining Johnson & Johnson in 2016. As a senior lawyer in the Regulatory Health Care Compliance Group, she advises client groups in the pharmaceutical, medical device, and consumer sectors on U.S. Health Care Fraud and Abuse Laws, including the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, False Claims Act, and related healthcare legal obligations, as well as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and equivalent anti-bribery laws and regulations outside the United States. Her additional responsibilities include advising the Global J&J Health Care Compliance organization on policy development, risk assessment, training, and monitoring, and serving as Chair of the Corporate Chapter for Johnson & Johnson’s WLI.
The WLI ELEVATE program continues to evolve while living into its mission of transforming and inspiring. The program has expanded its elevation of women beyond conversations through the “Watch for Women” campaign, which supports and highlights charities that focus on women and women-owned businesses around the world. Harris credits Webb’s environment and values with her own mission to support diversity and advance women through WLI ELEVATE. “The diversity at Webb was fantastic. Studying, living, playing sports and competing with people from different backgrounds just diminishes the idea that people are so different as to be unrelatable. Fundamentally, we all want the same things. All parents want their kids to get good grades,” Harris says with a laugh, before adding “all of my experiences at Webb, my friends, my teachers. I remember everybody. They’re all pieces of me, and, in turn, a part of WLI ELEVATE.”
Savaria Harris ’99 lives in New York. You can follow WLI Elevate on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. As of July 2021, Harris has been promoted to VP Law, Patient Engagement & Customer Solutions at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies.
Writer Michele Raphael ‘89 is the founder of Maximizing Media, a boutique media agency based in Los Angeles. A former National Press Foundation fellow, she holds an MA in Journalism from USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Her daughter, Mirabel ‘24, is a freshman at Vivian Webb School.