Listening and learning from our Indigenous employees

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As a Cree woman and third-generation residential school survivor, I know what it means to be marginalized and to feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle to succeed. And as a valued employee of BDC, I know what it means to be empowered, heard and recognized for the unique perspective I bring to an organization. These distinct identities allow me to serve Indigenous business owners in a meaningful way.

This month, we honour National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. As we recognize and celebrate the culture and contributions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Indigenous peoples of Canada, I’m reflecting on the ways that we at BDC are supporting our Indigenous employees and the Indigenous entrepreneurs we serve.

Employee training to better serve Indigenous entrepreneurs

We’ve been making some changes at BDC to move the wheel of change forward, with input from Indigenous employees like me. As we deepen our understanding of the institutional and societal barriers facing Indigenous entrepreneurs, we’re changing our approaches and training for all staff to better serve them—and better relate to one another.

Diversity, equity and inclusion training, including unconscious bias and anti-racism teachings, is now mandatory for all BDC employees. This has challenged our team members to re-evaluate the way they communicate and interact with others.

We’ve also launched a mandatory training on Indigenous history, identity, and reconciliation in Canada which touches on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action. This training provides foundational knowledge on truth and reconciliation as well as advice to put it into practice every day.

I’m proud of the work that BDC has done to date, but I know this isn’t where we’re going to stop.

Understanding the challenges of Indigenous entrepreneurs

Indigenous entrepreneurs have unique challenges compared to their peers. For instance, they often have a harder time accessing affordable capital to fund their projects.

A 2016 Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) study found that 55% of Indigenous business owners relied on personal savings to start their business; 51% said locating potential outside sources of funding was a challenge. And when they found a lender, 45% found it was difficult to meet the requirements for lending. Despite these barriers, the number of Indigenous business owners is growing at five times the rate of self-employed Canadians.

Today, BDC has close to 300 Client Diversity Ambassadors, employees who are trained to support our diverse clients and break through the barriers they typically encounter. These employees take the time needed to help Indigenous entrepreneurs get the financing they need to grow their companies.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We are increasingly learning to go beyond spreadsheets to evaluate Indigenous entrepreneurs; to help develop businesses and the leadership skills needed to help them thrive. When I’m speaking with Indigenous entrepreneurs, I often feel like I’m talking to my aunties and cousins. And since Indigenous culture is about storytelling, I like to start with: “Tell me your story.”

This approach is well-received. The feedback we’re hearing is often, “You really get it. You really understand.”

Working with partners

Listening is an important part of our journey and our work is guided by feedback from our employees, the Indigenous entrepreneurs we work with, and organizations like CCAB, Indigenous Works, Pow Wow Pitch, Our Children’s Medicine, and Bears' Lair. Together we aim to provide even more wide-sweeping support to the Indigenous business community across Canada, including sessions to increase financial acumen. We also meet regularly with the Indigenous leads of our sister crowns (including EDC, and FCC) to share learnings and best practices.

Understanding the importance of giving back to the community, our Indigenous Entrepreneur Loan gives back a portion of the interest paid to charities of the entrepreneur’s choice, and we contribute to the $150M Indigenous Growth Fund, managed by the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA).

This June, and all year long, I’m proud to be part of an organization that has a long history of working with Indigenous entrepreneurs and that appreciates our unique histories, cultures and contributions in Canada.

We are working hard to increase the number of Indigenous employees at the Bank, and to ensure employees have a diverse and inclusive mindset. Let’s keep moving forward to ensure all entrepreneurs have the support their need to grow their businesses.

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