By Fellicia Foster, VP & Head of Inclusion & Diversity, BMO Harris Bank
Set against the backdrop of the global pandemic and tensions around social and racial injustice, this past year, many organizations have engaged in courageous conversations about unconscious biases, racism, and inclusivity. In unearthing a better understanding of the collective barriers experienced by People of Color each day, it has become clear that the time for slow-paced progress on actioning diversity initiatives has long passed, and the urgency to create a more equitable society is upon us.
Through my work overseeing diversity and inclusion at BMO Harris Bank, I have witnessed first-hand how taking firm steps forward on bold commitments for colleagues, customers and communities can create seismic shifts in momentum. When these steps are tailored to address gaps in representation and economic prosperity, unbalanced systems can be dismantled. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the financial and future-forward thing to do. There is a connection between diversity and business performance. And while the correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, the correlation does indicate that when companies commit themselves to diversity in leadership and an inclusive environment for all, they are more successful.
In a multi-year study by McKinsey & Company, results data indicated that gender-diverse companies at the executive level are 25 per cent more likely to have above average profitability, and ethnically diverse organizations, 36 per cent. Clearly, diversity and inclusion can be key factors in driving organizational success.
But where does it begin?
In my view, it starts with an actionable diversity strategy.
A commitment to creating a more inclusive society is foundational to our values at BMO, and this year, we finalized a new multi-year strategy – Zero Barriers to Inclusion 2025 – that addresses gaps in representation and career progression as well as opportunities to target economic disparity in local communities.
For our colleagues, these commitments mean actively diversifying the composition of our workforce, focusing on education, strengthening senior leader talent through development programs, growing our entry-level pipeline through youth-targeted opportunities and reinforcing leadership accountability. For our customers and local communities, we’re making progress eliminating barriers through our partnerships, especially in areas such as workforce development, minority-owned businesses, affordable housing, and arts and culture.
To further put these strategies into action, BMO Harris Bank recently unveiled its EMpower initiative, which pledges $5 billion over the next five years on a series of long-term commitments to advance an inclusive economic recovery that addresses barriers faced by minority businesses, communities, and families across the United States.
And while we recognize that more needs to be done in this space, taking actual steps forward involves looking ahead to build a roadmap for where we want to – and must – go. If companies can look within, listen and continue to address inherent biases – not just from employees but from their systemic practices and policies – we can start to see a more positive future take shape.
In cultivating change in 2021, diversity-focused priorities should include hiring, developing, advancing, and retaining a diverse workforce, ensuring products and services are inclusive, and investing in diverse communities to help foster prosperity.
As a woman of color and in my current capacity overseeing this portfolio, the opportunities to drive change and create a more inclusive environment are personal and professional passions. There have been many difficult moments, but I have hope that our future can – and will – look different, especially in partnership with eager allies. The emotional burden of pushing for inclusivity can feel laborious at times, but it is vital to ensuring we can turn the page on a difficult chapter, and move forward with a new narrative around diversity, equity and inclusion. In steadfastly removing barriers, we can help create equitable environments and opportunities for all to realize and achieve their potential.