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Developing a More Diverse Workforce

Equity Through Education September 24, 2019
Equity Through Education September 24, 2019

 

BMO’s 15-year-old Equity Through Education program has helped the company become more inclusive – and more productive.  

For as long as he can remember, David Thomas dreamed of studying business in college and working on Wall Street.  He used to watch his father invest in the local real estate market. It was when his Atlanta, Georgia based high school ran a stock market simulation game, though, that he got hooked on commerce. “It was just a game, but I really liked it,” he says. “I learned a lot from the financial advisors who facilitated it.”

Today, Thomas works out of BMO’s New York trading floor as a Vice President. In addition to his day job, David is Chair of the New York Chapter of BMO’s Black Professionals Network and a member of the company’s Diversity and Inclusion Council. In these positions, David aims to help address specific issues of diversity and inclusion within capital markets.

When it came time to apply for college, there was only one place Thomas wanted to attend: The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s one of those elite schools that kids dream of getting into – and I was one of those kids,” he says. Unfortunately, it was financially out of reach. Thomas, who was always a go-getter, applied to as many scholarship programs as he could find, but one program in particular piqued his interest, The Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship, which is supported by BMO as part of its now 15-year-old Equity Through Education (ETE) program. 

The Jackie Robinson Foundation provides generous education-related grants to minority students with leadership potential. It has given out $85 million over the last 45 years and is responsible for helping more than 1,500 students go to schools they would otherwise never get a chance to attend. Thomas applied and received the scholarship, which covered nearly all of his school-related bills. “I would never have gone to the University of Pennsylvania without it,” he says.

Thomas, who joined BMO as an intern in 2011, is just one of many people who have thrived in the corporate world thanks to more inclusive company policies and financial assistance from places like BMO and other like-minded businesses. Without scholarship programs and diversity policies at companies, business would be missing out on valuable talent – and even additional revenue.

Cultivating culture 

For Dan Barclay, CEO of BMO Capital Markets, inclusion is a no-brainer, especially for a company in a highly competitive industry such as banking. Inclusion, he says, is all about culture. “Culture is an enabler of performance,” he says. “When we think about the journey we are on as building a high-performance culture, one of the key planks of that is what I call inclusion.” 

To Barclay, inclusion means that everyone feels like they belong. “And if they feel like they belong, then they bring 100 percent of what they have,” he says, adding that diverse thought also helps businesses generate better ideas and more easily adapt to change. 

According to the Boston Consulting Group, companies with diverse management teams report 19 percent higher revenues than less diverse operations. The reason? A wider variety of perspectives results in more innovation, says the report. 

Building a great place to work  

In a recent presentation to BMO Capital Markets, Michael Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work, a global research firm that produces the annual Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list, said diversity and inclusion are key to what make a business a great place to work and, ultimately, grow. “Anybody looking at their firm into the future knows things are changing and they have to get the best talent they can get,” he says. “They have to look in places they are not currently looking, because the current pipeline that they are exploring does not have enough talent, or innovation, in it.” 

Creating an inclusive workforce isn’t just the right thing to do, he adds. It can also boost the bottom line with better retention, productivity and share price. According to his research, companies that have been on his Great Places to Work list over the last 20 years have outperformed the Russell 2000, the Russell 3000 and the S&P 500 by three to one. Going forward, those who make the list will need to be inclusive. “You can’t leave anybody out in this quest for diversity and inclusion,” he says. 

The importance of education 

Of course, developing a more inclusionary and therefore high-performing culture doesn’t happen overnight. There are many structural impediments in society that prevent talented individuals from achieving their goals. To help counter some of those forces, BMO has made education one of its main philanthropic focuses. It is a founding sponsor of the Women in Capital Markets’ Return to Bay Street program in Canada, and the Back2Business program in the US. Both programs pay for retraining for women who want to get back into the financial services industry after an extended leave. 

ETE, which helps fund the Jackie Robinson Scholarship that Thomas received, has given more than $20 million since 2005 to various North American and European charities. Every year, BMO donates 100 percent of one day’s institutional equity trading commissions to organizations that provide scholarships, mentoring programs and development opportunities. 

Since its inception, the program has helped more than 5,000 students obtain degrees and other training they otherwise would not have access to. It’s why ETE’s slogan is “15 years of trade that grow the good.” “We want to make sure people’s chances of success goes up,” says Barclay. “So that’s what we’re doing with ETE, where, consistent with our values, we invest in our community.”

Thomas says that companies, in general, can do more to create inclusive environments, but  supporting education is a good place to start. “ETE helped me follow my dreams,” he says. “It allowed me to go to the school I wanted to go to and study what I wanted to study. And now I can do what I’ve always wanted to do.”

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Dan Barclay Chief Executive Officer & Group Head, BMO Capital Markets

Dan Barclay is CEO & Group Head of BMO Capital Markets, where he is responsible for all of BMO Financial Group’s interactions with corporate, government...

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