LGBTQ+ Ally Company Honorees Pave the Way for Workforce Equality

By Kecia Carroll, PRSA Tampa Bay member and co-chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee

June is Pride Month, and many businesses are taking the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the LGBTQ+ community, including this month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling protecting gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination. 

Several Tampa Bay businesses are doing their part to drive change. In a virtual event on June 18, the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s 2020 ally company honorees* shared their own commitment to advance workplace diversity and inclusion. 

“It is hard to start, but worth it,” said Rick Bennett, Strategic Programs & Local Partnership Manager at Florida Blue.  “Where you are today is not as important as where you are tomorrow.”  

The corporate leaders offered this advice they learned from their own journeys to improve their businesses through diversity and inclusion:  

Lead. It was unanimous. The allies agreed that the road to workforce equality starts at the top. It has to be a business strategy and not a human resources program. Leadership cannot be neutral. Instead, they must demonstrate a deep commitment including modeling behavior themselves. They must be a part of the conversation, even if it gets uncomfortable.

Listen. Learn. Teach. Start in a state of self-examination. Teach leaders at all levels of the organization how to recognize unconscious bias. Assess where you’re starting and where you want to go.

Listen to your employees. Learn from their stories. Hear what is hard, and what they would like you to take away as a company. Make diversity and inclusion affinity groups and task forces open for staff to participate so everyone feels welcome to join the conversation and contribute to change. For several of the organizations, diversity and inclusion came to life through company groups like these.

But don’t stop there. Listen to your partners and customers. Work with minority-owned organizations to create opportunities to grow through partnerships.

Communicate. Communicate broadly and often, reminding employees of what you do and why you do it. Tell stories of diversity and inclusion that will inspire them. Celebrate successes. Keep the conversation going.

Create. Continue to create and foster a culture of inclusivity. “You can bring in diverse talent, but if you don’t have an inclusive environment, they won’t stay,” said Lynn Heckler, EVP, Chief Talent Officer at PSCU. Don’t expect it to happen overnight. Creating an inclusive culture requires education, nurturing and constant reinforcement.

Evolve. Diversity and inclusion is a journey so there is always more that can be done. It is a daily effort, one that requires organizations to continue to step up and ask what they can do to help people. In doing so, you’ll adapt your D&I strategies just as you adapt your business strategies.

In this particular time of rapid change, Renee Agler, Human Resource Director at Baker McKenzie reminded companies to balance existing diversity and inclusion goals without losing sight of employees’ basic needs. “For example, we are now thinking about how we need to adjust for the needs of our employees working remotely. We’re facing a different form of isolation and are responding with flexibility and patience.”

The common theme from the presentation was that it’s good for business to create businesses where employees can be their authentic selves. Diverse group thinking led to innovation. Brand awareness and customer service improved. Companies became employers of choice. “Whether you have 10 employees or 10,000, they are not the same. Diversity and inclusion is a way to innovation and growth,” said Stuart Brown, Lead Microsoft Business Grp., NA and Office Managing Director at Accenture.

*The Tampa Bay Business Journal’s 2020 Ally Company Honorees included:

  • Stuart Brown, Lead Microsoft Business Grp., NA and Office Managing Dir. - Accenture
  • Renee Agler, Human Resource Director - Baker McKenzie
  • Rick Bennett, Strategic Programs & Local Partnership Manager - Florida Blue
  • Mike Sutton, President & CEO - Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties
  • Lynn Heckler, EVP, Chief Talent Officer - PSCU
  • Jen Sobieski - PwC
  • Karla Hartley, Producing Artistic Director - Stageworks Theatre 
  • Skyler Hunt, Community Outreach - Trulieve
  • Lauren Brusa, Sr. HR Business Partner, Manager - Wipro


Kecia Carroll is a communications strategist and corporate social responsibility champion. She is the Diversity & Inclusion committee co-chair at PRSA Tampa Bay.

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Tampa Bay Chapter Launches “Back to Work” Group

By Linda Hughes-Kirchubel, PRSA Tampa Bay member 

With national unemployment claims topping 40 million, job seeking members of PRSA Tampa Bay gather weekly to exchange resources and job tips, expand their connections, and strengthen their professional networks through the “Back to Work” group

The group’s Zoom gatherings began in early May, with the full thrust of the coronavirus upon Florida, the nation and the world. As the pandemic’s grip tightened locally, employers large and small initiated new work routines, activated remote work practices when possible, and instituted recommended public health guidelines. Ultimately, the virus toppled the labor market, workers were furloughed, and errors in April and May jobs reports likely means that May’s unemployment rate is 16.3 percent.

Amid this unprecedented crisis, PRSA Tampa Bay's Membership Committee, chaired by Bart Graham, reached out to as many of the 237 chapter members as possible. The committee wanted to engage with members, especially any who had been furloughed or laid off. They found there were many who were impacted.

“Before COVID-19, I was working as a communications consultant for a small business,” said Beth Chernes, a PRSA Tampa Bay member whose contract with a small business ended when Florida shut down. “I saw friends and former colleagues in public relations and marketing lose their jobs and opportunities dry up. Through the Back to Work Group, I've made connections in PRSA Tampa Bay that will last beyond my time in this group and into the next chapter of my career.”

During each Back to Work Group meeting, job seekers share resources with each other, celebrate victories and offer support for current challenges. They share tips such as resume building, preparing for job interviews, and using the latest job finding tools. Using a private Slack channel, members post information designed to build skills and increase knowledge, including podcasts and videos about navigating career transitions.

“PRSA Tampa Bay members have always been an incredibly supportive group of professionals,” said Kelsy Long, president of PRSA Tampa Bay. “This Back to Work group is just another example of how our chapter can come together to form a mental and professional safety net during troubling times."

Some members have buddied up, which adds accountability and motivation to the process.

“The weekly meetings with my accountability buddy are encouraging and motivating,” said Linda Hughes-Kirchubel, who recently relocated to Florida. “We share ‘to do’ lists on Monday and then check in on Fridays to report our progress. I’ve really benefited from her knowledge, and since I’m new to Florida, she’s helping me better understand the PR environment here.”

“The collaboration and support of the Back to Work group has been so helpful with a great exchange of ideas and suggestions,” said Beth Hardy, APR and former member of PRSA Tampa Bay’s board. “It’s very helpful and good to know that we have each other’s backs.” 

“I truly look forward to the weekly meetings with everyone,” said Muffy Lavens. “Having a group of professionals going through the same thing reminds me that I’m not alone in this. We’re all talented people supporting each other as we navigate this tough time.”

PRSA Tampa Bay's Back to Work Group meets every Monday at 10 a.m. It is open to all Florida chapters.

“We see it as another benefit of PRSA membership,” said Graham. “We don’t want people to suffer in silence. These are tough times, and PRSA professionals understand the value of communication and connection. This is just another way we can offer that to our outstanding members and continue to support their career journeys.”

For more information, or to join PRSA Tampa Bay's Back to Work Group, contact Shannon Burch, Beth Hardy, or Muffy Lavens.

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