Charlene Wheeless, an award-winning communications executive with decades of experience in the industry, expanded her role at APCO Worldwide to become the company’s senior advisor for equity and justice, Margery Kraus, founder and executive chairman, announced.
In this new global role, Wheeless will serve as a senior leader and advisor to both APCO and its clients on issues of equity, justice, diversity and inclusion. She will mentor, train and lead both internal and client-facing teams on these issues, as well as work directly with APCO clients on corporate purpose, crisis and issues management, internal communications, organizational change and diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Inclusivity is one of APCO’s most important values and this year, we’ve seen a renewed global focus on fighting inequity and injustice,” said Kraus. “We’ve been actively advocating for these values, both internally and with our clients for many years, but clearly more needs to be done. This is why we created a role focused on driving equity and justice in partnership with clients, within our own culture and in the communities in which we operate. Finding ways to address racial and systemic inequalities must be an integral part of every company’s corporate strategy. Now is the time to act, and Charlene bolsters an already-strong group of experts at APCO dedicated to helping organizations seize this moment and make meaningful change.”
Wheeless, the former principal vice president of global corporate affairs for Bechtel Corporation, serves as chair of Arthur W. Page Society and joined APCO’s International Advisory Council in August 2020.
“It is my firm belief that systemic racism and oppression in our society has naturally spilled over into the work environment, and that company leaders need to reckon with this before meaningful changes can be made,” said Wheeless. “I have chosen to dedicate the next phase of my professional career to fighting injustice, and when looking for a place to magnify my efforts, APCO’s history of impact on gender equity issues, its industry-leading record on elevating people of color into leadership roles and its impressive Accelerate What’s Right plan made it a perfect fit. I look forward to working with APCO and its clients to find meaningful solutions around issues of equity and justice.”
APCO has long been an industry leader on these issues. The company was one of the first agencies in the industry to have a dedicated corporate responsibility practice. Earlier this year, APCO announced its recommitment to being a force for meaningful, sustained change in the world, fighting systemic racism and advancing inclusivity and equity. APCO also expanded its commitment to advisory work around sustainability and social impact issues through the acquisition of the Tembo Group.
Wheeless was previously named by PRWeek as one of the most influential PR professionals for five consecutive years and was inducted into the PRWeek Hall of Femme in 2016. Her book, You Are Enough, which reflects on her experience as a Black female executive, will be published soon.
She joins a deep bench of experts at APCO helping clients on equity and justice issues, including Kim L. Hunter, Elle Arlook, Denielle Sachs, Elizabeth Duncan-Watt, Jennifer Butte-Dahl, Jason Meyer, Kimberly Gardiner and Stephanie Waties. In addition, Wheeless will also be providing counsel as part of the extended team at Gagen MacDonald, a strategy execution firm and a longstanding APCO partner.