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Thought Leadership


"Somewhere over the rainbow: a CEO's perspective on building an inclusive company"

Remarks delivered at the Economic Club of Canada coinciding with the WorldPride Human Rights Conference, Toronto, ON
June 25, 2014
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Thank you for inviting me here today.

Let me begin by welcoming all those who have come from across Canada, and around the world, to join us in Toronto for World Pride.

We do so with open arms.

For all of us who are lucky to call Toronto home – we are bursting with pride – not only to host this incredible international celebration – but to be the first city in North America to do so.

World Pride is a reflection of who we are – showcasing our values - our Canadian values -- of inclusion and tolerance – equality and fairness.

I've been asked to reflect on these values from a corporate perspective. And specifically provide you with my views on building an inclusive company.

It is an easy speech for me to deliver -- because the core issue is pretty straightforward.

It really comes down to human rights – our rights -- to be true to ourselves and those around us -- to live the life that we want to lead – free of discrimination – free of fear – free of imprisonment.

Yes -- there is a compelling business case to embrace policies that promote inclusion, which, in turn, helps you persuade others to do the same. I'll get to that later.

But this issue is fundamentally about people – not profits.

Being inclusive must be more than a corporate policy – it must be a guiding principle.

By embedding this principle into an organization, you create a dynamic that makes it easier for companies to help change themselves, change the world around them, do the right thing, and serve their stakeholders.

Let me start with some context.

It should come as no surprise that Canadians value diversity. We rely on a steady stream of new Canadians to keep our society vibrant and our economy strong.

We should be proud of what we have accomplished, but not complacent.

Canada has not always been on the right side of inclusion.

In the aftermath of World War II, an official in the immigration department was asked how many Jews Canada would accept from Europe?

His response:

None is too many.

Of course, our society has changed a great deal since then.

But the change which has occurred, occurred because leaders, at all levels of society, had the courage to challenge prejudices.

Tolerance is always a work in progress. And so we must follow the lead of those who have come before us to challenge today's prejudices.

Now, if we turn to today's context, we have come a long way.

Consider same sex marriage.

Underneath the tunic Reverend Brent Hawkes wore to oversee the first legal marriage of a gay couple was a bullet proof vest. And that was Toronto in 2001.

Four years later, Canada introduced the Civil Marriage Act – in effect, legalizing same-sex marriages across the nation.

Thousands upon thousands of couples are now married.

And of these, many are enjoying the wonderful world of parenthood. I am proud to work alongside some of them at TD.

Canadian society has become increasingly tolerant since 2001. 80 percent of Canadians now believe homosexuality should be accepted by society.

But having won the same sex marriage debate – I'm sure the average citizen would now consider the journey complete.

And so, in Canada, the real enemy is complacency.

Because, let me tell you, the journey is not over when coming out means being kicked out of your home. More than 20 percent of the homeless youth in Toronto are LGBT.

The journey is not over when school yards are combat zones for LGBT students. You are way more likely to be bullied or beaten up if you are from this community.

And the journey is definitely not over when life does not seem worth living. Close to 50 percent of people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming have attempted suicide sometime in their lives.

So the journey continues in Canada.

But even more so around the world.

Because, in almost 80 countries, this gathering would be outlawed.

And simply by listening to what I have to say would be reason enough for the authorities in some of these countries to arrest you.

People will point to all sorts of religious, cultural or economic factors that foster intolerance. But we must not let such explanations take away from the horror of what is happening in faraway places or close to home.

And we should remind everyone that discrimination rarely comes in single doses: if people don’t like members of the LGBT community, they probably don’t like other people too.

Girls and women are often a target.

And so are visible minorities.

When it comes to human rights, we are in this together.

An attack on your rights – is an attack on mine.

Now it would be wonderful to think we could mobilize society to place sanctions against countries where discriminatory policies exist for the LGBT community -- as we have done in response to other acts of oppression and aggression.

But clearly the world is not yet prepared to go to financial war on this human rights issue.

But that does not stop us from fighting the good fight. Many people in this room are doing just that.

And big businesses have got in the ring too.

Last year, as you know, major corporations challenged Washington's definition of marriage as expressed in the Defense of Marriage Act. They argued it was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court agreed and struck it down. The decision has had ripple effects in court rooms across the US.

Earlier this Spring, a proposed bill that would, in effect, permit Arizona business owners the right to deny serving gay customers was vigorously opposed. Business leaders threatened to pull investments out of the State. Another location would be found for the 2015 Super Bowl. The Governor vetoed the bill.

Now I am sure some of you are saying: ok, Ed, those are US examples -- a country that in relative terms to the rest of the world is increasingly tolerant towards LGBT.

But what about less welcoming environments … How far should corporations go to bring about positive change?

I don’t think there is a simple answer here. And I know there is no easy answer.

As a leader you have to push the boundaries of the possible, and, indeed, slightly beyond and in doing so, you will find those boundaries change.

I grew up in the 60s during the civil rights movement. In fact, my dad taught for one year at the University of California at Berkley; ground zero for the culture wars of that decade.

And, as I came of age, I too joined marches in Washington against the Vietnam War.

And like previous struggles, I have seen them follow a similar pattern.

People commit individual acts of courage that drive others to do the same.

Think Rosa Parks. Her decision to sit in the middle of a segregated bus set off a chain of events that mobilized society to dismantle laws that discriminated against Blacks.

At some point you reach a tipping point. People with prejudices are pushed by the wayside. Their voice is crowded-out. Their power diminished.

The corporate world can apply the same pattern.

Companies that take a public stand on gay marriage, for instance, act as a catalyst for others to do the same.

At TD, we have found there is a virtuous circle at play.

When we act publicly in a way that supports the principle of inclusion, we end up reinforcing our commitment to build a more inclusive culture within TD. And as this permeates deeper into our culture, we become more embolden externally.

Let me take a step back and explain.

For us, competitors can match our prices. They can mimic our products. We derive a competitive advantage by delivering legendary customer service.

And so we need to have people on the ground that get our brand, and are motivated to bring it to life each and every day.

To do this, leaders at TD are tasked with a core obligation -- help all our people be their best selves, and perform at their highest level.

And so about 10 years ago, we set out on a journey to create an inclusive and diverse work environment that ensures TD is a place where people feel welcomed to join and comfortable to grow.

Now, it's instructive to know how we came to make a "welcoming and inclusive" work environment a key priority, and central to our business strategy.

We had offered same sex benefits to our employees since 1994. One day I asked for the numbers – how many employees had them? – I was told 55 – I said – "not possible, go check the numbers" – because, at the time, we had 55,000 employees. But it turned the number was accurate -- 55 employees.

So it hit me – we had done the right thing – we introduced same sex benefits before many governments had and most companies had– but you can't eradicate homophobia through policy.

We had to dig deeper – because we had not created an environment where our employees could be their true selves. And if they couldn’t be their true selves, how could we expect them to develop and grow to become their best selves?

Inclusivity required a huge cultural change – a change that could only come with the personal and steadfast leadership from the top.

Like all change management issues, we knew some people would roll their eyes and respond – "this too will pass."

Indeed, as I learned years after I first announced that I was making the LGBT focus a personal priority, the reaction in some circles was underwhelming. "First it was the women," they groaned. "Now it is the gays!"

We forged on.

We embedded the principle of inclusiveness into our corporate mission. Today we monitor progress through bi-annual surveys. We make clear to leaders this is part of their jobs.

Members of our leadership team chair the steering committees that advance our focus on inclusiveness. And we introduced mandatory diversity training for people managers and executives in Canada and U.S.

Over the years, we developed a special focus on various groups underrepresented at the leadership level – not just LGBT and women, but also visible minorities, Aboriginal Peoples and people with disabilities.

We've learned these different groups have different issues. And in fact within each group there are differences. The TD experience for lesbians is different from our gay population. They haven't always felt that our focus on LGBT inclusion includes THEM. And we know that the issues for our transgender employees - and CUSTOMERS – are different yet again.

The key is to walk a mile in their shoes – to understand their daily issues – such as “Can I talk about what I did on the weekend with my partner?"

In the early days, we had a hunch that many colleagues struggled with how “out” they should be at work.

For instance, when we first established our LGBT resource group in Toronto, 24 people signed up. 12 of them were straight!

We gained greater traction when our employees saw us taking public stands.

Sponsoring Pride Week is an obvious example. Ten years ago, when we first decided to sponsor the Toronto parade, we sent an email to every employee in the city. Overnight, membership of our LGBT group grew to 200 people.

Today we sponsor 42 Pride festivals across North America. And we now have 21 employee groups with more than 3,000 members.

We run ads across our footprint that are inclusive and we apply for recognitions that show the world we are a welcoming environment for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans-gender.

Additionally we invest in worthwhile groups and causes – more than 100 across North America to date. For example, we are a big supporter of the Philadelphia Queer Fest film festival and the Gay Men's Health Crisis Centre in New York City.

And, in fact, today, I am proud to announce a donation of $100,000 to Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based organization that helps people seek refuge from countries that promote or permit violence toward the LGBT community.

We are also are focusing on the market opportunity – for instance, developing LGBT teams as branch managers and specialists in wealth and small business.

All of these external commitments demonstrate how serious we are about keeping our internal ones.

Let me be clear: diversity isn’t about symbolism or public statement – but we have also come to recognize that symbolism, open leadership on an issue – does make a huge difference.

Another story underscores this point. A colleague once told me about her sister, who happens to be a lesbian.

The sister couldn’t tell her parents -- she feared their reaction. Now, I suspect her parents, like most people, weren’t inherently prejudiced. However their views were shaped in a time and place where society was less open and welcoming.

The relationship between her sister and parents became increasingly strained -- she was spending more and more time with her partner – and when she was with her folks, the sister was aloof and disengaged.

My colleague started talking at home about our work in building employee Pride networks. Even the CEO, she mentioned, comes out to Pride events – and TD sponsors Pride week in cities across North America.

TD's commitment to the LGBT community surprised her mother – but it also won her over – if a bank was fine with LGBT – maybe, she thought, I should be too. The sister eventually came out in a welcoming environment.

There's another point that I want to make about leadership.

Once you draw a line in the sand, you have to put the full weight of your personal brand behind the issue.

That, in effect, emboldens you to be brave – even in difficult situations.

I recall a big internal meeting where a colleague was pretty upset about our direction. He was losing customers over it – and one of his biggest was in play.

He asked me why "the bank was doing all this stuff when we should be working for the shareholders? I am losing customers to other banks."

My answer was "nobody gets to buy the TD shield. It is not for sale. Lose the customer. And if your beef is with the decision we made, then go to work at the bank that's recruiting your customer -- meanwhile we'll continue to sponsor the Pride Parades."

The truth is, I've had similar conversations across our North American footprint.

By taking this stand, it turns out our employee brand actually grows -- people are attracted to our values and want to work for us – we are able to draw from a wider talent pool.

Our ability to attract and retain incredible people has certainly helped fuel our growth and transformation into one of the largest financial institutions in North America.

Before I conclude, I want to make two direct appeals to the folks in this room.

First to the activists: corporations need your help to lead and sustain public dialogue – to encourage difficult conversations – to spark debates – but you have to find a way to do it without demonizing companies, which never helps to win converts, and help them make the journey.

Help draw the link between the moral and business imperative. And by doing so, you will provide leaders in business and government the room to get involved and make the world a better place.

Second, to the business leaders: I have never liked when CEOs use the resources of their organization to advance their own personal convictions. Shareholder dollars are not your personal donation fund.

But this issue is about the kind of society in which we want to live. Be a good corporate citizen but don’t just be a good corporate a great personal citizen. People believe you when they see you invested personally. It's important to get involved – we all have gifts to give – time, money, persuasion. We need your leadership to move the meter.

Let me tell you about one of the things I am doing. I mentioned earlier that more than 20 percent of the children on the streets in Toronto are from the LGBT community. Often they are there for only one reason – their families, and in many cases, their community reject them for being themselves, for being honest and for coming out.

Shelters in big cities are tough places for LGBT youth – so they prefer the street – even with the attendant dangers.

There was no crisis centre these kids could go to – no shelter run for their needs – no transition homes to help them get re-established.

A group of us are determined to change that – we have opened a crisis centre, and are working on finding a place to open a shelter. If you want to help us, give me a call.

As citizens we cannot stand aside – nor should we take the all too prevalent attitude that someone in government should solve the problems. The private sector can't have it both ways – complain about taxes being too high and that governments are ineffective – and then ask them to solve every social issue. We have wonderful not-for-profit organizations – we need to back them.

We have a collective obligation to leave the world in better shape than our parents did.

I believe we can.

I believe we can create a society where our LGBT community truly feels comfortable.

I believe we must do so.

What's at stake is our basic right to be our true selves.

What does it say about a society that restricts some people on how they can lead their lives?

Freedom cannot be a two-tier system.

And so in this year – of all years – it is not enough to simply watch the Parade go by. We all must be part of the movement.

Let's use our freedom to march for those who cannot.

I can't tell you how long this journey will take.

But progress only comes when people say: "we still have a long way to go."

Don't let the distance discourage you.

We know there's a rainbow on the other side of this storm – a spectacle of lights – ushering in a better tomorrow.

We are on the right side of history. And momentum is on our side. Let's forge ahead.

Thank you.

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