SFBJ celebrates 2019 Business of Pride Awards
Published Friday, June 7, 2019

By   – Digital Producer, South Florida Business Journal

After accepting their awards on stage Thursday, honorees shared personal stories with the audience. Many stressed the importance of being openly LGBTQ in the workplace as a way to fend off discrimination and support the community's next generation as they advance their careers. They noted the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots as they urged the audience to be staunch defenders of equality on the job and beyond.

The honorees were also featured in a special Business of Pride section that ran online and in print on Friday. The special section included a list of the region's LGBTQ-owned businesses ranked by revenue.  

Click here to learn more about the honorees.

Name: Bob Swindell

Title: President and CEO

Company: Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance

When a longtime customer learned that then-business owner Bob Swindell was gay, the customer said he was pulling his account. Swindell had to show his employee who managed the account and the long-standing customer who he was as a leader.  

The next day, Swindell was on a flight to meet with the customer.

“It was probably one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever had to do,” Swindell said. “But I had to let them both know that this was the same company that he’d dealt with all along, and that being gay is part of who I am, but that doesn’t define my other qualities.”

Today, Swindell’s team at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance applies the same approach to economic development, a winning strategy that has lured and retained companies, boosted Broward County employment, and spurred billions of dollars in economic impact for the region.

What advice do you have for young LGBTQ professionals looking to move up in the corporate or professional world? I’ve witnessed an amazing transformation of how lesbian, gay and transgender people are perceived. It’s pretty amazing when I look back to when I was in high school and what kids are like in high school today. It’s a significant change. When people talk to me about this, I use LGBT+ because it includes allies and everybody else. For LBGT+ professionals, their sexuality is a facet of their character and work ethic, but don’t be lazy and let that define who you are as a lesbian, gay or transgender person.

Are companies in South Florida vocal enough about equality and inclusion? I visit so many businesses in Broward County and, while not everybody is perfect, I find a lot of the more successful business leaders see it as no big deal. I think smart businesspeople know that a diverse team makes you so much stronger, whether it’s diversity of gender or personality types. I look at the team at the Alliance. I’m very fortunate to work with an amazing group of people. They all have their own unique qualities. It’s that diversity that really makes us stronger as an organization. It’s one of the cosmopolitan qualities of greater Fort Lauderdale and South Florida that makes us attractive and interesting to people.

What do you view as the key LGBTQ issues impacting business? That you don’t necessarily know the backgrounds of all your employees, as it’s not always totally apparent. So, making sure that your employees create an environment that embraces everyone is important. I hate to use the words hostile workplace, but you can have a workplace that’s not as inviting if you tolerate jokes that are directed toward how somebody is different. You have to set a clear understanding of what the boundaries are.

How can companies better attract and retain top LGBTQ talent? I actually brought the issue up when we were talking during the Amazon HQ2 process. The majority of the Wilton Manors City Commission is gay or lesbian. The mayor of Fort Lauderdale is openly gay. Those examples send an incredible message to people that not only are we gay and welcoming, we are led by gay professionals and a majority of our residents elected gay and lesbian officials to run the business of their community. That speaks volumes. That’s not just saying that we will tolerate you, but it means we understand what you can bring to discussions and to leadership and that your leadership qualities include representing the residents and getting the business of the city done.

As an LGBTQ professional, what responsibility do you and your peers have to foster, encourage or advocate for inclusion in the workplace? I think everyone has a role in this. I serve on a lot of boards of other organizations, so I interact with people where we sit on a board together. So sometimes you have offline conversations with someone and they’ll say something disparaging, you know, not knowing anything about my background. I found that [with] most people, when you gently challenge them on something they’ve said, you give [them] a little bit better perspective. Some people really want to continue the conversation because it was something they hadn’t really thought about.

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