New video: Inclusion is a permanent, unequivocal journey

Highlighting five lessons that TD has learned on its journey to becoming a more inclusive workplace for the LGBT community, Teri Currie, Group Head, Canadian Personal Banking, recently delivered a keynote address at the Montreal Pride national conference on LGBTTIQA2S rights.

The conference brought together community and cultural partners, government representatives and university researchers to assess the state of LGBTTIQA2S rights in Canada.

Following the conference, we sat down with Teri and Jean-Sébastien Boudreault, Vice President of Montreal Pride to discuss TD's inclusion and diversity efforts.


 Inclusion is a permanent, unequivocal journey

Remarks by Teri Currie, Group Head, Canadian Personal Banking, TD Bank Group

LGBTTIQA2S Lives: Our Struggles, Our Victories, Our Challenges

August 16, 2017, Montreal

Good afternoon. I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we are gathered is the traditional and unceded territory of the Gain – E – in’ Gerha:Ga a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations. 

Merci de m'avoir invitée aujourd'hui. Je suis ravie d'être ici à Montréal. Et d'exprimer l'appui de TD à tous ceux qui assistent au défilé de la fierté, le plus grand dans le monde francophone. Quelle belle occasion de célébrer!

I know Montreal is marking its 375th anniversary this year, but honestly, based on what I've seen, the city still parties like its half its age!

I also want to acknowledge all those attending this national conference on human rights.

Your aim, of course, is not to seek privileges for a few but to uphold the principle of equality for all. This is fundamental work in building a better Canada -- so thank you for everything that you do.

The case is clear: everyone deserves the freedom, respect and dignity to decide how to live their life.

But achieving equality has neither been swift nor seamless for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities in Canada. And if you ask those who identify as intersex, queer, asexual or two-spirit, they will say gains have not been equally distributed. 

Arguably, the journey began fifty years ago when a justice minister by the name of Pierre Trudeau introduced reforms to the criminal code that would decriminalize homosexual acts.

"The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation" he famously explained in 1967, the same year as the Summer of Love.

But not everyone was feeling the love. Back then, more than 40 percent of Canadians believed that  "homosexual behaviour" conducted in private should be a criminal offence. That's right…I said 40 percent.

And it took another 25 years for sexual orientation to be written into Canada’s Human Rights code; it was only then that you couldn’t be fired or lose your housing for being gay.

We have come a long way.

Most Canadians no longer debate the legality of same sex relations. Indeed, an overwhelming majority now support same sex marriage as a human right.

And through the years, a series of laws have been introduced to further protect members of the LGBT community from discrimination – including, most recently, Bill C-16, which adds gender expression and gender identity protections to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Tellingly, this past June, another Trudeau – our current Prime Minister – was front and centre again in Toronto's Pride celebrations, with Ontario's Premier, who I might add is the first openly gay Premier of Ontario.

More countries are joining the movement.

Two years after a landmark decision by the US Supreme Court in support of marriage equality, support has never been higher in America.

Taiwan became the first Asian country to recognize same sex marriage this summer.

Also this summer, and just two years after Ireland became‎ the first country in the world to legalize marriage equality by popular vote, its Prime Minister is openly gay. 

So we should be optimistic about more progress -- but not naïve about the work ahead of us.

Same sex relations is a crime – and punishable by death -- in many countries around the world.

Some public officials in some countries talk about the LGBT community as "abnormal" and "outrages on decency." They have halted Pride marches for so-called public safety reasons

And even here, in Canada, hate crimes against someone's sexual orientation tend to be more violent than other hate crimes. And the number of reported incidents has grown over the past few decades – with one occurrence taking place every couple of days according to Statistics Canada. And unbelievably, people are still exposed to dangerous conversion therapy practices in fool-hearty attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

So discrimination still exists. Intolerance still thrives. Hate still festers.

And while none of this will surprise you, I do believe the stakes are higher today. 

The politics of division abounds.

Words may be coded. Their aim may be cloaked. But the mask of inequality is a poor disguise.

And so the good fight continues.

I am optimistic about our prospects.

Past victories often act as a catalyst for future ones. No one spoke about LGBT rights when “homosexual behavior” was decriminalized in Canada. But over time, as human rights informed the discussion, it became impossible to treat sexual minorities differently from other minorities. 

Yet inclusion must be a permanent journey.

Our victories have not – and will not - be borne from the milk of human kindness.

It's more like the HARVEY MILK of human kindness… "Rights," he said "are won only by those who make their voices heard.”

And it need not be a chorus of voices either. Often, a single person can be a catalyst for change. 

This is the first of five lessons that I want to talk about today, based on our experiences at TD, as we set out to become a more inclusive and welcoming workplace for the LGBT community in 2004.

I was three days into my new role as co-head of people strategies at TD when I got a call from Ed Clark, our former CEO, who was an early champion of the LGBT community at our Bank, in the business community, and for that matter, in Canada. 

The call was unexpected so I immediately replayed my last 72 hours at the Bank, wondering what I did to warrant it.

Ed was troubled by a conversation he had in passing with a colleague.

The colleague explained to Ed that he and other gay colleagues were in the closet at work because they were afraid that coming out would have a negative effect on their careers.

I was upset too. After all, respect and transparency were cornerstones of TD’s culture. What's more, TD had been offering same sex benefits to its employees since 1994 – the first bank to do so.

Ed wanted me to find out how many people enlisted in these benefits - surely, he thought, it would be telling of the kind of open and welcoming environment we foster at the Bank. 

Well, the numbers were telling -- but not in the way we had hoped: 55 people out of a workforce of 55,000 at that time…

It became clear: people felt we hadn't created a safe space for them.  Policies are good, and necessary, but attitudes, values and behaviour are what shape our culture. 

And so our journey began.

But why – some asked -- was it so important for TD to double down on creating a more welcoming environment for the LGBT community? ‎

Intrinsically we knew it was the right thing to do. And certainly there was a clear business case for an open and welcoming environment. If TD could be a place where all people would feel welcomed to join and feel comfortable to develop their career – we would continue to attract, retain and grow the talent required to compete, win and grow.

But deep down I know the real genesis was what happened in that conversation between Ed and that one colleague. It took that one person who made his voice heard.

So we worked hard in fostering an open and welcoming environment, where all our people can bring their whole self to work and have that opportunity to be their best selves.

The principle of diversity and respect are core values. We have an extremely active and informed inclusion and diversity committee, chaired by our CFO, Riaz Ahmed, that includes senior executives from each business and head office function across TD. One of their key responsibilities is to ensure we are living up to the values that we espouse.

What’s more, we measure our performance, and our leaders are held accountable for making their businesses inclusive. Additionally, all people managers and executives participate in programs to help them to be more inclusive leaders.

We actively search for LGBT talent, and organize our business around opportunities to help grow TD's business within the LGBT community.

Equally important, we express our commitment to diversity and respect publicly. For instance, we raise money for organizations that champion LGBT rights around the world. We publicly supported the effort to strike down the state bans on same sex marriage through the Supreme Court, and to repeal a North Carolina law that would restrict access to bathrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities on the basis of a definition of sex or gender assigned at birth.

And, of course, we are also a long-standing partner of Pride festivals. TD has come a long way since its first employee Pride celebration. I was there. It was held in a small, stuffy meeting room.

We were all looking down at our shoes – except for some accidental and certainly awkward moments of eye contact. Imagine a grade 8 dance with no music…

Today we sponsor more than 60 Pride festivals across North America. And we now have 21  employee groups with more than 5,000 members.

More importantly, our external stance sends strong signals to our people about the inclusive environment we want to foster at TD. Indeed, our internal surveys tell us that culture is a huge point of pride among our colleagues – and a huge competitive advantage for us in the marketplace.

That's not to say our efforts to become more inclusive weren't contested. They were. That's the second lesson we learned.

We came across internal opposition to our active support for the LGBT community – even as our CEO made diversity and inclusion a personal priority.

I had seen this movie before -- back in the mid-90s – during my time at Canada Trust – before its merger with TD.

In our efforts to build a more equitable workplace, we had produced a series of case studies to help train our leadership. One scenario focused on a customer who refused to be served by a teller who was not white.

This case study was written to challenge us on how far we would go to keep someone's business.

Many of us believed a line had to be drawn – that we could not tolerate intolerance – if we were truly committed to being an equitable workplace. Others disagreed. They argued the customer is always right. Our job was to serve people – not judge them. Both sides believed their answer would send the right message to our employees.

Ultimately, we landed in the right place. Canada Trust would be prepared to "fire the customer" if the alternative meant compromising our commitment to inclusion.

The same argument was heard around TD, when we embarked upon our journey with the LGBT community. Some said we were losing customers to the competition as a result of our Pride sponsorships. The response was unwavering: "Lose the customer. And if you aren't comfortable with our values, find another place to work."

Other cases were more nuanced. Perhaps the most sensitive one was centred on religion. Clearly, the beliefs of some colleagues would not align with our support of the LGBT community.

We had to be respectful.

But it was also important to deliver a clear message of understanding and empathy. No one was asked to change their personal beliefs – but, at the end of the day, if you were going to work at TD – be a leader at TD – you had to make room for everyone around our table.

The principle of inclusion sounds simple enough. But practicing it can be more complex. That's lesson three from our permanent journey toward an inclusive workplace. 

For instance, we learned – in some cases the hard way – the TD experience for lesbians is different from our gay population. Lesbians haven't always felt that our focus on LGBT inclusion includes them. 

And we know that feelings of inclusion for our transgender employees are different yet again.

If I am being frank – that first call I received from Ed – there was no mention about transgender people – let alone any other letter in the extended acronym.

And, in retrospect, we did not fully appreciate the diversity within the LGBT community.

In our early years of the journey – perhaps the first four or five – much of our focus was on encouraging and celebrating the diversity of our people – making sure we were investing in meaningful programs to advance their interests – building up and out our Bank's profile as an advocate of the LGBT community.

We felt pretty good about our efforts. But one of my colleagues, Amy Hanen, who now oversees our diversity and inclusion efforts, recalls a discussion she had about 10 years ago with a colleague who was a transgender woman.

The colleague was increasingly frustrated with TD’s focus on celebrating Pride. "My people are suffering – they are isolated, suffering  horrible discrimination,  they are regularly being harassed and experiencing violence – they come across huge barriers in every facet of their lives – employment, health care, accommodation …and all we are doing is putting on our party clothes and waving flags."

It was not for a lack of care or compassion. But the reality is you don't know what you don’t see.

Indeed, there is a lot of truth in the words: "Privilege is invisible to those who have it … Privilege is invisible to those who have it."

And while we might want to reserve this truism for the proverbial white, straight, middle class man, it turns out privilege can be relative.

So our eyes and ears opened wider. It started with a simple but powerful act – we asked transgender colleagues to help us understand how they see the world, and how the world sees them – so we might walk a mile in their shoes.

We are hardly perfect – there is a long road ahead of us. But we're proud we were one of the first – and only -- companies to implement benefits coverage of gender confirmation surgery in 2008. I know there are still issues with access to surgery in Canada – Montreal is currently the only place in the country where the surgery can be performed, though Toronto has announced a location for this surgery coming soon -- but our policy at least helps address some of the financial barriers.

We introduced guidelines for transitioning in the workplace to support colleagues, their managers and their teams through the process. Over the years, we have shared these guidelines with other organizations that are seeking to make transitioning in the workplace a more comfortable experience.

We have also provided financial support to Trans health and Trans legal projects.

Today I am proud to announce a donation of $100,000 to Gender Creative Kids Canada – a Montreal based organization that provides support for gender nonconforming and transgender children, youth and their families.

Over the next two years, our donation will assist with building organization capacity, developing education and training programs and providing peer support so that Gender Creative Kids Canada can continue its great work.

Still, it's not enough to be moving forward – we must also look toward the frontier – to see where we can go next – in building a more open and welcoming workplace.

Our focus has expanded over the years. We are mindful of other groups who come across biases and barriers every day – women, racialized communities, indigenous people, and people with disabilities.

This leads to the fourth lesson. There is no finish line. What's more, progress is not linear nor is it clear cut. Sometimes its two steps forward -- one step back.  The fight for inclusion is always waged on multiple fronts.

I recently heard a story from a colleague that perfectly illustrates this point.

He happens to be gay and is in a bi-racial relationship. He was talking to a friend about his marriage plans later this summer, when he was asked: "what do your parents think about all of this?"

He said: "its fine, my parents know I am gay."

"I know that," said the friend. "I'm wondering how they feel about the fact that your fiancé is white."

My point is you can never be complacent – even when we have come so far.

That leads me to my fifth and final lesson.

Leaders must be unequivocal.

Unequivocal in looking for and listening to that single voice who feels uncomfortable or is being treated unfairly.

Unequivocal in taking decisive actions – even if that means turning down business or dismissing a productive employee that isn’t being truly inclusive.

Unequivocal in developing a true understanding of the unique challenges faced by any given group.

Unequivocal in seeing inertia as an enemy and complacency as a culprit in sustaining the status quo.

We must always look for ways to be better – to do better.

Because inclusion is a permanent, unequivocal campaign.

Speaking at a Pride event, our CEO, Bharat Masrani, explained it this way:

"Our collective responsibility as leaders is to stand up to those who would turn back the clock and simply say: no! We have made too much progress. We have come too far…

"Providing everyone with a sense of belonging -- the freedom to come as you are -- be who you are…that's what inclusion is all about."

I feel good about the progress TD has made in the past dozen years or so.

And I'm equally optimistic about our future – both at the Bank, and more broadly in Canada and around the world.

We are grateful, very grateful, for the role you are playing in creating this future – one which allows us to live our lives to the fullest.

At the end of the day, that is what we are all fighting for.

Who we are -- how we choose to live our lives – and who we choose to live it with -- should not be buried deep in our hearts – kept stored safely from public view. These realities along with our hopes and aspirations enrich our lives – enrich our workplace – enrich our communities. And comfortably sharing them with each other allows us to support one another in achieving them.

And that is why our hopes will never be silenced.

Because hope has a voice.

Your voice. My voice.

Hope has a growing chorus of voices that outnumber those who wish to drown us out.

Indeed, the days are numbered for those who wish to drown us out.

For we will remain unwavering in our pursuit of equality, unapologetic in our commitment to diversity, and unequivocal in our desire to make change happen.

We will use our leadership – our authority – to step up – and to stand up – for those who deserve to be heard.

It's been said that "leadership involves finding a parade and getting in front of it."

Well, we have a parade alright – one that extends well beyond the route that will be taken in Montreal this weekend.

Every step forward is a step toward a better, more equitable world – one which gives each and every one of us the freedom to live our life the way it's meant to be lived.

TD is forever proud to walk beside you in this most important of journeys.

Thank you. Merci. Bonne célébration de la fierté!

Teri Currie

Group Head, Canadian Personal Banking

TD Bank Group