Greetings fellow St. Petersburg enthusiast! I suppose the first logical order of business is to introduce myself. My name is Elizabeth McMurray, and I’m the Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff at the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. I also volunteer my time as a Board of Directors member, and Finance Chair, for Friends of Strays, a local St. Petersburg area animal shelter. I’m also a fiancé, daughter, sister, niece, friend and teammate. I share a menagerie of animals at home with my partner John: four cats, a dog and a fish tank full of fish – and yes, I know that’s a LOT. I love to run, practice yoga, read, travel and explore the great outdoors. And I absolutely love this city, St. Petersburg, Florida, that we all call home.
When my teammate and friend, Kim Vogel, our Chamber Greenhouse Manager, asked me to write this article on behalf of her team, my first reaction was, “Who, me? Wait, why?” I was honestly shocked. I think that is a pretty regular refrain for most strong female professionals I know. We understand what we accomplish every day is pretty badass, particularly considering the challenges we face; and that we do our jobs and do them well, but for some reason we don’t see ourselves standing out above and beyond most others. We are cultivated by our culture to keep our heads down and just get it done. For me, my goal is never to “be seen.” It is, instead, “to be respected.” Due to this, I’m honored to be writing to all of you here and frankly unsure how I feel about the opportunity. So, I’m choosing to be vulnerable and share my truth.
I was lucky to have been raised by a woman who told me I could be anything I wanted to be. She grew up through the radicle 60’s and participated in fighting for social justice. On the occasion I would come home complaining about a teacher or fellow student who had wronged me, while I had a sympathetic ear in my mother, she would also challenge me by saying, “So what will you do with what you know now? You’re capable of handling this on your own. You control you and only you, so what’s next?” I carried that with me through my professional career. I still say similar things to my teammates working as a Human Resources professional. When I faced sexual inuendo and harassment in the workplace as a woman, I would pivot, adjust and fight my way past it, through professional and personal channels. When treated as if my voice was less than, which happened for YEARS in my career, I would turn the other cheek and keep grinding away. I don’t claim to advise others that this is the path, but I certainly have an appreciation for those who’ve faced similar struggles. My reality was and has been that in twenty years of a professional career and in countless positions held, I’ve only had two roles where I did not encounter sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace, and one of those two safe places is my role at the St. Pete Chamber. It is something most women I know grapple with regularly.
Four years ago, I started telling my friends and family that I was aiming for a C–Suite level position. I had the knowledge base and working experience to support that level of recognition in title and pay – and I wanted it. That was the first and biggest step in the process of landing where I am today. As I got to know and prove myself to my current boss, our President and CEO, that goal was always forward in my mind during conversations about my growth and development. I shared it with him. I discussed it with other mentors at the organization from our Board of Governors. I created a plan and a path to get there. It worked. My best advice would be, don’t keep your aspirations siloed in your mind. Make it known, create a roadmap, and DO THE THINGS. If where you are today doesn’t hold the potential for your goal, create a strategy to get there. No one will make you a priority unless you do that first for yourself. We all deserve that.
Being heard and recognized not only through my title, but by my peers, teammates, my organization and the community at large is incredibly meaningful to me. Having a seat at the table, and the possibilities of the impact I can now make, made all the frustrations and the fight to get here well worth it. It’s a validation that how I view myself is also how others see me – as strong, fair, measured, hardworking and with invaluable insights into my body of professional work. I want that sense of worth and value for all who I work with each and every day, and it is my goal to get them there too.
My point in sharing all of this is to say: “Look how strong we are! Look how amazing we are as women! We can balance home life, work life, and all the realities of being of the female sex.” Don’t give up, don’t set aside your hopes and dreams, plot and plan them out and make them happen, one step at a time. I promise that if you put out into the universe what you want, if you put words to it and speak it out loud, it will HAPPEN. And if there is any city that will push you forward, onward, and upward, it is this place, St. Petersburg, a city of camaraderie, where women support women, and so do most others. You will still face challenges, but you can do it. I believe in you, and so does our team. We are here to support you, so just let us know – let ME know – how we can help. All my best to you in your journey. I know I am eternally grateful to all who played a part in mine.