Caroline Tsai, deputy general counsel, BMO

Diversity and inclusion is a core value for the Bank of Montreal – both as a business imperative and corporate value. GC sat down with Chicago-based deputy general counsel Caroline Tsai to learn more about the bank’s commitment to diversity and how the in-house legal department is taking the lead.

BMO has a long history as a champion of diversity and inclusion – it’s a core value and a key priority for us. This includes diversity of perspectives, experiences, abilities, cultures and gender.

Ours is an inclusive workplace that values and encourages the different perspectives and experiences of our employees. Drawing on these different perspectives of leaders and employees makes us more innovative as a company. We want our workforce to be a reflection of the customers and communities where we live and work, so that our employees and customers can benefit from the more creative ideas and innovative solutions that a diverse workforce can inspire.

In the past few years, we’ve refocused our efforts at BMO to increase diversity in our workforce and workplace inclusion – we call this our ‘diversity renewal agenda’ where each business has created action plans to increase the diversity of our talent pools and succession slates. Our renewal initiatives are not just aimed at aggressive workforce goals – like 40% female representation in our bank’s senior leadership ranks by 2016 – but also shifting the mindset and culture of all leaders and employees in the organization.

At BMO, the general counsel sets the tone from the top. Our general counsel, Simon Fish, serves as the bank’s executive diversity champion and is co-chair of the enterprise diversity council. Additionally, he is the chair of the legal and compliance group’s diversity council, the first employee-led diversity council of a corporate area at the bank. Since being established, the diversity council has become a leader at the bank for its actions, measurable performance metrics and execution on pace with goals.

Employees from all areas and levels of the legal and compliance group help shape talent development and culture. The approach has proven highly successful and today the diversity council actively engages in a multitude of employee-led diversity initiatives, ranging from participation on diversity panels and roundtables, to employee mentorship programs, to developing strategies for retention and promotion of a diverse workforce in the group.

The legal and compliance group is a bank leader in the representation of women at senior levels and a pioneer in setting specific, measurable goals for the hiring and retention of minorities in senior roles globally. Fish requires that his leaders and the diversity council set metrics and report quarterly to him on results.

To ensure that goals are met, the senior leadership within BMO’s legal and compliance group report quarterly to Fish on their metrics and achievements. He also meets quarterly with the co-chairs of BMO legal’s and compliance diversity council to monitor and review progress against set objectives.

In-house lawyers play a critical role in championing diversity. In addition to ongoing direct dialogue with external law firms, in-house lawyers can drive change by sharing best practices among corporate legal departments through active participation in national affinity bar associations and participating in mentoring programs to develop diverse talent.

photo of BMO headquarters in winnipeg

We focus on talent development, employee engagement and stakeholder engagement. We have asked our external law firms to provide diversity metrics to provide visibility to the diversity of the lawyers who are engaged in our matters. Lawyers are engaged in community organizations and local and national affinity bar organizations to drive diversity and inclusion in the legal community.

BMO’s legal excellence program helps to ensure that the diversity of its law firms reflects that of its organization and the communities where it does business. As part of the request for proposal process for law firms, BMO’s legal and compliance group invites firms to disclose their diversity statistics and considers this information in the selection process.

BMO’s legal and compliance group efforts have been a catalyst for change in Canada, with a number of its external counsel responding and saying that our request for diversity statistics prompted their firms to examine their practices and address the issue of measurement. In 2013, the first year of requesting diversity metrics, 34% of those that responded to the questionnaire collected and disclosed diversity metrics; as of 2014, 97% of firms who responded to the questionnaire now collect and disclose diversity metrics. As a result of this work, our group was awarded the 2014 Innovation Award for Best Practice in Law Department Diversity.

Since 2012, BMO’s legal and compliance group has partnered with Dentons on an initiative focused on providing academic support and extracurricular activities to high school students that face a variety of challenges and barriers to academic success. The Law in Action Within Schools (LAWS) mentoring program is a partnership between the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, Osgoode Hall Law School and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

A brief history of diversity and inclusion at BMO

In 1991, BMO resolved to be at the forefront of diversity and inclusion. We started this journey with four pioneering task force reports which earned us a reputation for being a leader in diversity: advancement of women, aboriginal employment, visible minorities, and people with disabilities.

In 1994 BMO became the first non-US organization (and the first financial institution) to be presented with a Catalyst Award, in large part for the impact of the report of BMO’s task force on the advancement of women in the bank, which acknowledged the existence of a glass ceiling and set out the first steps to shatter it.

On the 20th anniversary of our task force reports, BMO renewed its commitment to be a diverse and inclusive workplace. Led from the top, we established an enterprise-wide council of senior leaders known today as BMO’s leadership committee for inclusion and diversity with the goal of driving performance by being a leader in diversity and levelling the playing field, so all great talent could succeed. A set of strategic priorities defined our direction for renewal:

    • Set industry-leading diversity goals;
    • Grow and develop diverse talent;
    • Build inclusive leaders who learn from difference;
    • Enhance our reputation as a leader in diversity and inclusion; and
    • Measure and benchmark our progress.

In 2014, BMO was an early signatory to the Catalyst Accord, committing to having a strong representation of women at all levels of the organization, including the board of directors. In 2013, the board adopted a diversity policy which commits BMO to board composition in which each gender comprises no less than one-third of the independent directors with the promise of public disclosure. Today, 36% of the bank’s board seats are held by women, surpassing our goal.

Similarly in the US, since 2013, BMO’s legal and compliance group has partnered with Working in the Schools, a non-profit organization that promotes literacy and the love of reading among Chicago’s public school students. Members of the team volunteer their time as mentors and hold weekly tutoring for students, to help them improve their literacy skills.

With a new set of aspirational multi-year goals to 2020, BMO seeks to maintain industry leadership. By the end of 2020, it is our aim to achieve:

    • Minimum 40% women and minorities in senior leadership roles across all business groups;
    • 20% (US) people of color and 30% (Canada) minorities in senior roles;
    • 4.5% persons with disabilities (Canada and US); and
    • 2% aboriginal people (Canada).