“Any time a colleague comes up to me and says they feel like they can finally bring their whole selves to work — that’s when I know I’m making a difference,” says Tara Pawlak, Senior National Account
Sales Manager for PepsiCo Beverages Canada.
Tara knows the power of authenticity in her role as co-chair for EQUAL Canada, PepsiCo’s employee resource group committed to promoting an open, inclusive and respectful workplace for all LGBTQ+ associates. And she knows it on a personal level,
too — because early on in her 24-year tenure at PepsiCo, she was afraid of being rejected or judged for being gay.
That all changed on a work trip to London, Ontario in 1998. As Tara sat listening to her female co-workers talking about their husbands and boyfriends, she decided she wasn’t going to hold back any longer. In a heart-pounding moment, she told the
group about her partner, Lee-Anne. “As I got to know my colleagues, I felt it was important that they knew my true self,” she says. Just bringing up her relationship offered a sense of the belonging she had been missing.
“As I got to know my colleagues, I felt it was important that they knew my true self.”
That turning point has been a powerful driver of her work with EQUAL. “For me, it became important to continue that trajectory,” Tara says. The group’s vision: to ensure associates feel safe and respected in the workplace, regardless
of gender or sexual identity. “As PepsiCo, we need diversity of thought if we're going to continue to break boundaries and continue to grow as an organization,” she says. “Diversity is our strength.”
“As PepsiCo, we need diversity of thought if we're going to continue to break boundaries and continue to grow as an organization. Diversity is our strength.”
Showing that diversity at Pride each June has been a focus of Tara’s work for EQUAL. She lobbied for PepsiCo’s first appearance at a Canadian Pride event and helped create the first-ever global PepsiCo Pride flag. “Pride is about celebrating
who you are, who you love, and showing solidarity for all the colors on the spectrum,” Tara says. “If you've ever been to a Pride event, people are happy, they're celebrating…we actually even had one marriage proposal in front of
The most meaningful support Tara has seen at PepsiCo, however, goes beyond any single event. It’s not just the company’s use of the rainbow logo, she says, citing how brands like Doritos and bubly are amplifying LGBTQ+ voices, as well as PepsiCo’s
partnerships with organizations like Family Equality and Human Rights Campaign. “The rainbow treatment is just one way to show friends and family what we do,” she says. “It’s a way to get the conversation going.”
This month, EQUAL has been offering a variety of virtual experiences for associates, including a global Pride at PepsiCo celebration kicked off by Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta, as well as events like movie
nights, drag brunches and more. “Basically, I'm just looking to bring people together to celebrate, share stories from around the world and have fun,” Tara says.
While Tara says celebrating the LGBTQ+ community is an important part of Pride, she also sees a deeper purpose in the work she’s doing with EQUAL. “If we look around the world, there are still countries where being gay is illegal,” she
says. “You could be jailed or sentenced to death for identifying as LGBTQ+.” In the U.S., studies show that nearly half of individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ remain closeted in the workplace.
“I want to be part of the solution,” Tara says. “I never really expected EQUAL’s work to go as far as it has, and I feel like we're just scratching the surface.”