During the early months of 2020, workers were reckoning with the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, on May 25, Minneapolis police killed George Floyd.
The ensuing protests against systemic racism, along with broader calls for criminal justice and policing reform, arrived on the heels of a crisis that public health experts suggest is disproportionately impacting Black communities and other communities of color in the U.S. These events have “shaken up the entire human mind,” Girish Ganesan, global head of diversity and inclusion at TD Bank, told HR Dive in an interview. “It is an extremely difficult time.”
For major employers like the American subsidiary of Canada’s Toronto-Dominion Bank, it is also a time to stand in support of black employees.
“We have a responsibility to speak up,” Ganesan said. “We have to be a force for good in the communities where we live and work. Employers have to take a stand against acts of racism affecting the black community.”
So far, TD has committed to addressing issues affecting the company’s black employees with a greater focus, Ganesan said. Recently, D&I experts responding to the current wave of social unrest similarly told HR Dive about the need for a holistic approach to inclusion that goes beyond corporate statements and includes programs that demonstrate empathy.
In its immediate communications to employees, the company emphasized any act of hatred or racism is unacceptable at TD. “The events of the last few weeks are the latest, but by no means the only, examples of racism and violence against Black communities,” Ganesan said. “The events have been difficult to watch. However, the suffering they represent is the reality of life for millions across the communities we serve. At a time when we are all fighting COVID-19, we must remember that racism too must be eradicated.”
Further, TD is creating internal spaces for open discussion, including company events focused on the experiences of black employees. D&I education and training modules have been augmented with a focus on facilitating difficult discussions around race, Ganesan said, though he acknowledged that some employees will be uncomfortable having those conversations.
For this reason, TD has provided additional executive support to its employee resource groups that focus on the issues black employees face. Ganesan said the company is doing this in part by gathering “champions” from across the organization to ensure the group can act quickly to address the current moment.
Organizational efforts also must be projected externally, Ganesan said, which is why TD Bank is exploring projects like social impact grants for community organizations. TD has long maintained a D&I strategy that focuses on inclusion for all with multiple pillars that represent different stakeholders at the company: “We stood up these pillars because we didn’t want to be off-balance,” Ganesan said. “This is the time to stand tall and stand together.”
TD also has several internal initiatives planned for Pride Month, solidifying its commitment to supporting underrepresented groups. “We also want to raise the spirit of inclusion by ensuring that we keep moving forward with everything that we have planned for Pride,” Ganesan said.
Part of that initiative, Ganesan said, is recognizing the role that people of color have played in the history of the LGBTQ movement, as well as the injustices that LGBTQ people of color in particular have faced throughout history.
“Our social obligation is also to connect the dots for employees, customers and the communities we serve,” Ganesan said. LGBTQ employees of color represent intersectionality, he added: “Ensuring we unite our efforts against anti-racism through Pride this year has never been more important.”
Advice for D&I teams
Smaller organizations may have diminished access to resources because of the pandemic, but Ganesan believes it doesn’t take much for employers to take a public stance on systemic racism.
However, it’s important to speak with black leaders, to make sure that corporate messaging actually resonates, Ganesan said. “There are a lot of organizations that can help small and midsize companies that focus on issues as they relate to the black community,” he added, including the Human Rights Campaign, the Black Professionals in Tech Network and DiversityInc.
According to Ganesan, D&I leaders should reach out to their professional networks, including counterparts at other organizations, for advice and guidance on how to proceed. “In the last 72 hours, I’ve been speaking to D&I colleagues on a call every day … we’ve been exchanging a lot of notes,” he said. “This is the time to raise your hand for help.”