TD's Clark says embrace of diversity is good for the soul, but also business | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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TD's Clark says embrace of diversity is good for the soul, but also business

June 25, 2014 - 10:24 AM

OTTAWA - TD Bank chief executive Ed Clark says there are "rewards not just in heaven" for becoming a champion of social issues, but also advantages for the bank's bottom line.

The bank executive is a key speaker at the WorldPride Human Rights Conference in Toronto, where he related TD Bank's awakening to diversity issues about a decade ago toward becoming a major advocate for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community and sponsor of 42 pride festivals across North American.

In an interview, Clark said he has not tried to calculate whether his bank's public advocacy on the issue has won him more customers than it has lost him, but he thinks overall it has been good for TD (TSX:TD).

"I don't know and I don't care, to be honest," he said. "People are trying to build great institutions that will last 100 years, (so if) somebody says, 'Well, I'm going to take my money out if you sponsor pride parades,' you say, 'Take it out.'"

Over time, creating an institution that is on the right side of history and creates a welcoming, open culture for people of different sexual orientation and ethnic groups is a positive, Clark added.

"There are rewards not just in heaven, but eventually in the shareholder if you run an institution that people say, 'I love their employment brand, they create a different atmosphere.'"

He noted that TD is among the most profitable financial institutions in the western world in terms of shareholder returns.

Clark said he consciously began trying to make the culture at TD inclusive for all employees when in 1994 he offered same sex benefits to his employees. He was shocked when only 55 signed up, a startlingly low number for an institution with 55,000 employees.

That's when he realized people were afraid to reveal who they were.

"That was a profound, upsetting event for me. I said, 'Wow, it probably also means there are also a lot of other prejudices sitting out there that we're not really dealing with,' and so I made a personal initiative that we are going to change the culture."

He met with some resistance. He relates in the speech that one executive told him the bank was losing customers to rivals because it was so openly supportive of gay issues. He said he told him to go work for his competitor if that's what he felt.

From the original 55 who were willing to identify themselves as gay in 1994, the bank now has 21 operating diversity groups with total membership of 3,000 employees.

Despite recent gains for many minorities, Clark notes that the LGBT community is still vastly over-represented in terms of the number of youth on the street, youth suicides and victims of bullying.

"So we should not as Canadians be smug that yes we have same-sex marriage, but we still have a battle here," he said.

Clark said he is currently involved in an effort to establish a crisis centre for LGBT youth because traditional big city shelters tend not to be welcoming of the community.

As well, he announced $100,000 donation to the Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based group that helps LGBT victims from foreign countries seek refuge.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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