Diversity is not just about HR

8 minutes read

After ten years in the not-profit sector, I didn’t take the decision to join BDC lightly. I worked for a range of feminist and social justice organizations and, at these non-profits, there were no specific diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) roles. We were DEI.

As a queer Black woman, I sought out workplaces that I knew were aligned with my values first and foremost. I viewed corporate life, and banking, as being incompatible with my personal and professional values, where I aim to contribute to creating a more just and equitable world. With these biases in mind, I was immediately impressed by the conversations I had with my BDC colleagues when I joined in 2021.

First, BDC has made DEI a foundational component of its corporate mission, business strategy and values. It’s a key reason BDC has been named Best Diversity Employer for 10 years since 2010.

But more importantly, BDC’s DEI mission is clearly underpinned by action. From those initial conversations, it was obvious to me that BDC was committed to creating spaces where employees can be heard, and opportunities for learning and unlearning to occur. We are not a perfect company, but it is putting in the work to ensure that DEI is not a standalone topic, but something that is ingrained in the culture of the organization.

Diversity is not always visible. Diversity is a question of noticing who’s missing in the room, what perspectives are missing from the room, and whose voices aren’t being heard.

LGBTQ2+ people face business and workplace challenges

Canada’s LGBTQ2+ community continues to face explicit and subtle discrimination at work. According to a 2019 study by the Canadian LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC), nearly half (46%) of LGBT+1 entrepreneurs have hidden who they are in business dealings to avoid losing opportunities, while one-third have admitted to losing opportunities because of their identity.

Intersectionality is a framework to help us understand how a person’s identities, such as race, class, disability, etc., combine to create unique experiences of discrimination or privilege. I am queer and I can’t separate that from my experience as a Black person, or as a woman—aspects others may judge based on stereotypes, as well as their own biases, and judgements. As we continue on our journey of making BDC a safer, more inclusive and equitable workplace, it is critical that we apply an intersectional lens to our DEI work.

Authenticity: DEI and the return to the office

These challenges are top of mind as many employees and businesses return to work or a shift to hybrid work models as we move into a new phase of life following the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a year of online meetings, most of my colleagues know I’m Black, and they likely identify me as a woman. But my queer identity may not be obvious on remote meetings.

The question of how much of myself to bring to work has been top of mind for me, a DEI expert working in human resources. I can imagine many employees are grappling with this now.

Fortunately, I’ve felt comfortable having conversations about this with my colleagues, who have an authentic interest in my wellbeing. Care and being cared for is not something that we tend to associate with work, but creating a culture of care is such an important part of acting on a DEI mission.

"I am queer and I can't separate that from my experience as a Black person or as a woman.

Creating safe spaces to listen

At BDC, we do our best to create the space to practice active listening, to hear what people’s needs are and work thoughtfully toward meaningful changes.

Diversity is not always visible. Diversity is a question of noticing who’s missing in the room, what perspectives are missing from the room and whose voices aren’t being heard.

  • In our DEI focus groups, we ask people across the organization for their perception of DEI work at BDC. This means listening to and soliciting employee ideas, and regularly seeking feedback, with a willingness to change our minds—and our policies—in the presence of new information.
  • BDC’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) meet monthly to engage on issues essential to their members, share their lived experiences, amplify the voices of employees from diverse communities in the organization and advise on employee growth and development. Going forward we’re looking at opportunities for ERGs to collaborate and take a more intersectional approach to their activities.

DEI is not just about HR

Every employee at BDC is on this DEI journey together. Our goal is to embed DEI within the very fabric of the organization starting at the pre-recruitment stage.

We have a Senior Advisor, Talent Acquisition on the DEI team who is constantly checking in to assess if our recruitment strategy reflects the inclusive workplace that we are striving to create and to ensure our job postings are written in a way that will attract a roster of candidates with diverse lived experiences. Moreover, language and policies are being adapted to be more inclusive, for example, using gender neutral terminology.

Creating meaningful partnerships

Developing robust relationships with diverse organizations amplifies the voices of the LGBTQ2+ community, while engaging in the issues that matter.

Beyond Pride: Meaningful changes

Annual Pride celebrations are important. They create opportunities to educate people about LGBTQ2+ history and culture, celebrate diversity and foster inclusivity, and they’re fun. But it’s what happens when the rainbow flags aren’t waving that matters.

At BDC, we are trying to move in the right direction—listening, educating, storytelling, learning and adapting to make meaningful changes.

American writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde once said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

Yes, our success will be measured by the diversity of our organization, how included people feel, and how equitable our policies and procedures are. But true success will be when we no longer need a DEI team because every employee at BDC is taking action every day to co-create an organization where anyone and everyone can find a sense of belonging.

1 The CGLCC refers to LGBT+ people in their study, which is why we are using it here.