‘Representation is only the beginning:’ TD Bank diversity and inclusion head Diana Lee on the bank’s ongoing racial equity audit – Toronto Star

Written by Amanda

‘Representation is only the beginning:’ TD Bank diversity and inclusion head Diana Lee on the bank’s ongoing racial equity audit  Toronto Star

Just a few months after settling into her role as Toronto-Dominion Bank’s vice-president of diversity and inclusion, Diana Lee got a front-row seat to the bank’s first ever racial equity audit.

The audit, announced in March, will see TD scrutinize its internal employment practices for racial bias and use its findings to inform future business practices with Black, Indigenous and other racialized customers.

It includes a third-party assessment by an outside law firm, as well as contributions by Lee and other TD staffers.

Working on such an undertaking might seem unusual for Lee, a lawyer by training who only started with TD seven years ago.

But before her appointment to the VP role, Lee was working with the bank to mitigate risks related to human rights, machine learning and AI, and consumer protection.

“I was advising and supporting our businesses in mitigating risk of bias and discrimination, and looking for the ways that we can drive equity for our customers,” she says.

To her, the VP job is a natural progression along her career path.

Canada’s banking sector is perhaps more diverse than one may expect. Outside of its upper ranks, about a third of the workforce at most large banks is racialized, according to Bloomberg.

That said, there is always room to improve, especially in the C-Suite, where just 10 per cent of top executive roles in Canada’s six biggest banks and two large life insurers were held by visible minorities in 2020.

Lee spoke to the Star in mid-May about TD Bank’s racial equity audit, measuring diversity and inclusion, and why she believes her company’s management has her back.

I wanted to talk about the status of racial equity and Canada’s banking industry. Where do you think it stands right now?

I think it’s clear that we have work to do. At TD, we leverage data and metrics to help us understand the impacts of our efforts to make sure that the results we’re seeing line up with the progress we want to see. We have created goals for 2025 to increase the representation of Black, Indigenous, and minorities at the vice-president level or higher.

We do recognize, of course, that representation is only the beginning.

If you don’t have that strong, inclusive culture within your organization, if you don’t have an understanding of how racism and discrimination can manifest — including in the form of microaggressions — then you’re not going to be able to achieve that sustainable progress you want to see. Cultivating inclusive leadership across the organization is crucial.

How do you go about measuring something like inclusion?

This is an area where we’re always continuing to evolve. But, certainly, as a starting point, we have an employee experience survey which we do review from the perspective of different communities. This includes how the experiences of Black, Indigenous and minority employees at TD manifest. I think this is a huge part of it — creating this opportunity to get input from your colleagues and make sure that you’re assessing it from the perspective of different communities.

Can you outline how this racial equity audit would touch TD?

We are starting with our employment policy. We’re first looking inwards as an organization to see how we operate before looking outwards. However, we are committed to leveraging the lessons from this assessment and applying them to our approach with customers and communities where applicable. This really is in line with how our D&I strategy has evolved.

We started by looking at our own operations, thinking about our employee experience at the bank. Since then, our D&I strategy has expanded to include how we interact with and serve our customers and communities. So the start is employment policies, but the way we’re approaching it, from the outset, recognizes the intrinsic link to other dimensions of our business and the impacts of racial equity for customers and communities as well.

Did you ever expect you’d do this kind of racial equity work when you finished law school and decided you wanted to go into the banking industry?

In the two months since I started in my D&I role at TD, I’ve really been reflecting on that. On the surface, it looks like I’m moving into a new area, but this is so core to who I am as a person and, really, my experiences at TD. Before my current role, I was a lawyer for a decade at law firms in Toronto and Boston, and then as an in-house lawyer at TD. Law, like many other professions, has significant diversity challenges. I’m Korean, and I was often the only one who looked like me in the room.

My story is the very common story of being a child of immigrants who worked so many long and challenging hours in convenience stores to create opportunities for my sister and I. My mom is one of the most capable people I know, but her career opportunities were limited by her life circumstances. But thanks to her, I benefited from the privilege of a great education and a great career, and I feel lucky to be able to use that privilege now to create opportunities for others.

I’ve interviewed a couple of D&I practitioners over the years. One thing that comes up is that they feel like they have a lot of support from management, but when they come back with tough recommendations, their managers suddenly aren’t so willing to support what they’re asking for. Is that something you’re worried about with TD’s racial equity audit?

I think I benefit from having had such a long history at TD before stepping into this role. That really was core to why I felt comfortable taking on this mantle. Work in this space is so challenging. Diversity and inclusion experts really do heroes’ work trying to drive diversity, inclusion and equity for all stakeholders at an organization.

I think if you know that the leadership of an organization, all the way to the CEO and board, are truly invested, then your role becomes an enabling role. It’s not you alone fighting this battle. That’s crucial to the success of somebody leading D&I for an organization. I didn’t have those concerns stepping into this role given my experience of seeing the real commitment to D&I across TD, including at the most senior leadership level.

What happens if TD does end up pushing back on some of your suggestions for change? How would you go about handling that kind of conversation?

It really comes back to me. It’s about whether you have the right kind of buy-in and genuine commitment to D&I at your organization. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have difficult conversations. These topics are really tricky. But I am certain that we will approach this assessment the way we approach D&I work more broadly: it is a strategic priority, it is important, and so we all take it seriously. I’m not worried about that.

At a time when hate crimes in Canada are going up, what’s it like to constantly have conversations about equity? How do you and your team cope with that?

It’s not easy. I just sent a note today to my team acknowledging what’s happening in Buffalo. My first interactions with my team were telling them, “I hope that you’re all taking care of yourselves.”

People who choose to become D&I practitioners are passionate and care about the work they do every day. That can be so rewarding, but also taxing. I think finding that right balance and making sure that the team feels supported is so crucial.

This audit came out of a shareholder resolution. Do you think it would have happened if they hadn’t stepped forward?

I think this approach is consistent with how we think about diversity and inclusion at TD. This concept of assessment, the importance of self-reflection — that is not unique to this racial equity assessment.

What do you think a better TD would look like? What’s one aspect of D&I at TD that could be improved upon?

I feel great about the path we’re on. We clearly have goals that we are striving for not only from a representation perspective, but overall in terms of making sure that we are upholding and strengthening our inclusive culture within the organization, in our policies and practices, and relating to our customers and community.

I think we are absolutely on the right path to continue to drive diversity and inclusion, but certainly, we want to see progressive change in support of equity year-over-year. That’s part of why this commitment to assessment and measurement is so important to us — to make sure that we continue to stay on that right path.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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Source: thestar.com

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Hi there, I am Amanda and I work as an editor at impactinvesting.ai;  if you are interested in my services, please reach me at amanda.impactinvesting.ai

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