“A wrong pronoun here and there might not seem like a big deal, but imagine that each time someone is misgendered, they receive a brick to carry,” says Kei Sista, Expense Analyst at BMO. “By the end of the day, they are exhausted under the weight of all those bricks.”
In 2017, BMO customer service representative Anthony Yu was working with a customer, and he noticed that the name on their banking profile did not seem to match their appearance. When asked to verify her name, the customer did so, but became very uncomfortable. Anthony considered the possibility that she had recently transitioned to living as a woman, and sure enough, when he asked what pronouns she felt most comfortable with, she immediately relaxed. She returned later with a note, explaining that in four months of living openly as a trans woman, this was the first time she had felt accepted at a financial institution.
That’s when the Gender Pronoun Initiative was born. Created by the BMO Pride Enterprise Resource Group (ERG), the initiative is part of a comprehensive transgender inclusion strategy focused on employee education, mentorship, communication executive sponsorship and talent acquisition.
The ERG team chose 19 branches across Canada for the initial launch of the initiative. They provided branch staff with gender sensitivity and inclusive language training, and coached them in having effective conversations with both customers and each other. The team also created display materials focused on trans-inclusive language, which they gave to staff to put up in their branches. Soon, a broader rollout will continue across Canada, and in the U.S., we will be launching a pilot in select Chicago branches.
“There’s been a lot of feedback from other financial institutions; people have come into our branches and they see what we’re doing, and they want to implement something similar in their organizations,” says Souvik Adhya, Director, Strategy, BMO. He’s not surprised by our leadership in this area. “This initiative ties into our DNA and purpose. We’ve always taken a stand and been supportive of issues like these.”
From early support of community resources like Fife House and Casey House, to opening a branch 18 years ago in Toronto’s Church-Wellesley village, BMO has long been a leader in LGBTQ2+ community support. And just as opening the branch helped BMO communicate that our bank was a safe space for the community, this initiative has already received positive feedback from our customers and employees alike.
One of the biggest hurdles I faced after changing my pronouns was interacting with businesses,” says Kei. “With friends and family, you have the time to have conversations about pronouns, but with a teller or a store employee, it’s a brief, one-time encounter.”
“BMO’s initiative to create ways to communicate one’s pronouns and provide language training shows BMO’s commitment to creating safe, inclusive spaces,” Kei adds. “This means so much to me as a non-binary member of the LGBTQ2+ community and as an employee, and I am excited to see how this example could spread to other businesses in North America.”
Souvik agrees. “This work ties into our legacy and purpose of growing the good in life. We want everyone to be comfortable being who they are,” he says. “And you can’t make a bolder statement than loudly supporting one of the most under-represented communities in the world.”