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Behind the Wings: Being your authentic self at work

When Tyler Tenbrink, Piedmont’s Director of Talent Acquisition and Development came out as gay at age 17, he knew there would be challenges ahead. In the Kansas town where he grew up and at the parochial school he attended, he was different and had to fight for acceptance. Throughout his career, Tyler has encouraged others to open their minds to accept the differences in others and celebrate what those differences can bring to the table. At Piedmont, he thrives in a workplace environment where he can be his authentic self.

When Tyler came out, the movement to legalize same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption and domestic partner benefits was front-page news. While attending Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus, Tyler rushed a fraternity. When asked why he wanted to join an exclusive organization, Tyler shared he wanted to join the fraternity to support inclusivity within a historically inequitable organization, make new friends and try and change minds. He learned that many in the fraternity had never met a gay man. “Joining the fraternity was the best decision I made,” says Tyler. “It gave me insight about what others thought. Instead of being made fun of, I stood on my own two feet.” He gained confidence knowing his fraternity brothers had his back. “They were allies without them knowing they were allies.”

Tyler obtained his bachelor’s degree in Technology Management with an emphasis in aviation and minor in business with plans to become a commercial pilot.  At that time, pilot jobs were scarce, and it was difficult to become a commercial pilot post 9/11. He ultimately took a job working for Air MidWest as a cross-trained agent in Salina, Kansas. He looks back and reflects on how much he enjoyed the customer service side of aviation and worked various roles in fuel management, crew scheduling, dispatch, station management, training and program management.

Six years ago, Tyler joined Piedmont as the Manager of Safety Programs in Salisbury, Maryland. “When I came to Piedmont, I didn’t tell anyone I was gay,” said Tyler. “I wasn’t sure how people would react, but I shared with my boss at the time, Julie Schell and she was very accepting. That was my first inkling that Piedmont was where I wanted to stay and it has always been an accepting organization to work for.”

When the Pilot Recruiting department was created, he accepted the manager position responsible for launching and overseeing the pilot recruiting program. Already a member of the National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA), Tyler suggested to the Vice President of Human Resources that Piedmont support the NGPA and other Pride events to promote inclusive and diverse hiring practices. “Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is something that should be woven into the fabric of every organization,” says Tyler. As the partnership with NGPA developed, that relationship served as the catalyst to increase diversity in hiring by partnering with other pilot groups like Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), Latino Pilots Association and Asian Pilots Association.

Tyler highlights that it wasn’t until Lynnette Darnell became Piedmont’s first DEI Manager that the company really began to focus on building a foundation to support diversity, equity and inclusion. “Six Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have been established and the company is continuing to build upon that to lay a strong foundation for DEI,” says Tyler.  “We need a diverse group of team members across the board to help champion, support, and drive our DEI goals and initiatives. Diversity, equity and inclusion is on everyone’s mind now so we need to be intentional.”

Tyler is a founding member of the DEI Council and believes diversity initiatives need to be supported from senior leadership down to the frontline. “I think it is important for our team members to understand they aren’t alone and there are people in management positions that are like them and think like them,” says Tyler. “I have the opportunity as a council member to share DEI topics with our executive leadership team and help influence DEI initiatives moving forward.”

Tyler shares that DEI is on the grow and there are opportunities to increase awareness through Piedmont’s ERGs. “ERG leader positions are volunteer and we are looking for team members to step up and lead these affinity groups to create a diverse and inclusive work environment. If there’s a cause that’s near and dear to your heart and you want to add leadership experience to your resume, we will support you as an ERG leader and provide the tools for your success.”

Tyler has come a long way, personally and professionally and is proud to be an advocate for promoting DEI at Piedmont. “I started my career in a different time and so much has changed,” says Tyler. “I’m now able to be authentic without fear. Piedmont has always made me feel welcome and never anything less than who I truly am. I’m thankful to work for a company who embraces and celebrates my difference and the differences of others.”

Outside of work, Tyler volunteers with NGPA and the Human Rights Council and sits on two aviation education boards.

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Behind the Wings is a Piedmont feature that highlights the accomplishments of the aviation professionals who make us Piedmont Proud inside and outside the airport. Piedmont is proud to recognize our LGBTQ+ team members and allies and their contributions to the success of the airline and making a difference in their communities.