Diversity in Florida Public Power
Member Spotlight - Spring 2021
In each Diversity in Florida Public Power newsletter, FMEA will spotlight one of our members—to shine a light on their successes and learn from their experiences. In our first ever run of the newsletter, we were grateful to catch up with JEA’s Chief Customer Officer, Sheila Pressley.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and the events and influences that most shaped and led you to where you are today.
I joined JEA in 2003 after a twenty-year career as a Vice-President in financial services. I now serve as JEA’s Chief Customer Officer, responsible for leading the organization to deliver a seamless, efficient and loyalty-inspiring customer experience to the nearly one million residents of Jacksonville and the surrounding area. I am a native Floridian, born in Flowersview, FL, a small town of just five hundred people where everyone knew everyone else, families were close and no one locked their doors.
My parents moved to Hollywood, Florida after completing graduate school at Florida A&M University. I was two years old then. I returned to Flowersview every summer to visit my maternal grandparents. The roads in Flowersview were not paved roads; gnats were a plentiful annoyance and wild blackberries were everywhere, ripe for picking and eating off the vine. My maternal grandmother was a domestic worker, working for families on Eglin Air Force base for nearly three decades. She left her home before sunrise along with the other women in Flowersview to catch the jitney to the Air Force base for work. She would return home at dusk, tired and weary from the day’s work, often-harsh treatment and nearly two-hour commute. I was responsible for feeding the chickens, gathering eggs from the chicken coop and helping my grandmother shell peas and pick vegetables from the garden on her farm. My grandmother often told me that I would be something someday. “Read those books, do your best and treat everybody right”, she would say. The lessons learned from my grandmother have guided me throughout my life and career.
Tell us something some people might find surprising to learn about you.
I am somewhat of an open book so little that I share with you will be surprising to the people that work alongside me. However, I can play a mean air guitar, Chopsticks on the piano with two fingers, and I love classic jazz music.
What is your favorite part of your work?
The favorite part of my work is the ability to envision something revolutionary that will benefit our employees and customers and to see those ideas manifested. There is simply nothing better than that.
What do diversity, inclusion, and equity mean to you?
I will start by sharing the oft-quoted phrase by Vernā Myers, the VP, Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” I support the belief that by simply focusing on diversity, labels are forced upon us and those labels can inhibit our ability to assume the full value of everyone’s contributions.
What first steps can an individual or organization take to foster inclusion?
Organizations that foster inclusion begin with transparency and a leadership whose advocacy for inclusivity is supported by actions that are intentional and deliberate. The leader demonstrates courage in the face of opposition. They are steadfast and resolute in their belief that inclusion is a business imperative.
What words of wisdom continue to motivate you?
I was born during a time in our history when systems, laws and policies were designed to hinder the progression of our society.
Some remnants of the beliefs that lead to the creation of those laws and policies remain today. However, I am motivated by the progress made by many and my grandmother’s steadfast and resolute belief everything is possible. I continue to follow her recipe for success, “Read those books, do your best and treat everybody right”.
What advice would you share with others who have aspirations like yours?
Be inquisitive, have a thirst for learning and never, ever settle for less than the best you have to offer.
What is one thing you learned over the course of the pandemic? How has the pandemic changed you?
I have learned to place value in the things that matter—time with my family, a leisurely walk in the park, showing kindness to strangers and eating meals at home. I’ve become reacquainted with my stove. The pandemic has without question reoriented by priorities.
What keeps you up at night?
What keeps me up at night is the accelerating pace of change in business and how that will affect our industry’s ability to attract talent and achieve customer satisfaction. Today’s customer is different than it was five years ago, and even more so just one year ago. The effects of the pandemic will be long lasting and progress can’t be slowed by outdated processes and hierarchies.
What’s one thing you’re excited about? One thing you’re grateful for?
I’m excited about the possibilities of living in a post-pandemic world. I miss travel, theater, live music performances and most of all, my elderly parents. I am grateful that my family survived this period in our history and are doing well.
Know someone we should highlight? Email Elizabeth Bendele.