Senior Financial Marketing Exec Awarded for GLBT Inclusion Initiatives

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Oct 3, 2011

Janet Aschkenasy

Same-sex marriage has been an acceptable practice in a number of states and in Canada since 2005. The area north of the U.S. border is generally viewed as more progressive toward the gay community. Still, similar problems tend to arise within the corporate bank environment—even where inclusion is a key management priority.

BMO Financial Group's Justine Fedak, who has worked with many members of the bank’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population in both the U.S. and Canada, keenly remembers one exchange between herself and a young man she’d been working with in a mentoring role at Chicago’s BMO Harris Bank.

“He came to an LGBT lunch with me and said nervously, ‘I guess you know about me.’” Fedak asked what he was getting at. He said that because he was attending the lunch, he figured Fedak would have surmised he was gay. Fedak pointed out that she was there with him and was in fact straight. That broke the tension and they both began to laugh.


Shame can impact employee's performance

The exchange taught Fedak something about the shame around these issues that can impact employee’s performance and inspired her to go the extra mile in learning about such challenges. “Sometimes you are so concerned about your coming out you forget about the rest of the environment that you are a part of,” says Fedak, a senior vice president of marketing at BMO Harris Bank in Chicago.“At that point, I decided to ask people a lot of questions about their struggles and how to support them,” she told eFinancialCareers.

Earlier this week, Fedak received the Leading Executive Ally Award from Out on Bay Street. Fedak was selected based on her championing of LGBT issues at BMO mentoring colleagues and advocating openness, inclusion and equity in business for members of the gay and transgender community.

BMO, meanwhile, began its formal diversity effort more than 20 years back when it formed an internal taskforce focused on examining workplace issues of importance to women, persons with disabilities, aboriginal peoples and other minorities. One of the by-products of that focus was a company-wide commitment to attract three high-quality and diverse candidates for each job vacancy.

Large rise in manager promotions last year

In Canada, BMO Financial Group’s promotion of middle and other managers who view themselves as a minority was up an impressive 72 percent in 2010.

Fedak says that even though Canada tends to be more progressive in its attitude toward the gay population than many other nations—becoming the fourth country in the world and the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide six years ago—Canadian banks need to take a series of steps toward creating an inclusive environment by offering mentoring programs and education.

When Pride Week celebrations were underway across Toronto in July, for instance, BMO hosted a wealth management-focused panel devoted to demystifying retirement issues for gay same-sex couples—many of whom have not legally married.

The panel, lead by BMO Life Transition Expert, Amy D'Aprix, talked about wills, estate planning, housing and retirement living. Common-law partners should not assume they will be entitled to their partner's estate at the time of death because the rules differ by jurisdiction, for instance, and many couples are challenged in finding a place to live in retirement that supports the fact they are gay.

BMO has also enlisted the theater group Had To Be Productions, with offices in Venice, California and Seattle, to create one-hour plays from real-life interviews that discuss issues like coming out. The plays, followed by Q&A sessions, have been offered three times at BMO offices in Chicago and three times at BMO offices in Toronto.

And speaking of inclusion: As Fedak recalls, not only were constituents throughout the company invited to the plays, members of other major banks were in attendance as well.