As the world-at-large grapples with addressing systemic racism and gender discrimination, businesses are considering their part in the process. When to speak publicly? When to take action? Where to begin? For CWB it starts within, with leaders setting the bedrock upon which employee grass roots movements are growing, and then looking outside to find partners with which to aspire and optimize inclusion and diversity activities. Early returns show that deliberate action in these areas is leading to an elevated understanding of CWB’s clients, teams and communities.
Grass roots employee initiatives are a key driver of CWB’s ‘inclusion has power’ value. CWB Women was the company’s first employee resource group (ERG) - employee-led groups that connect employees with like interests and mindsets – with the goal to support, empower and connect women and their advancement as leaders. The group hosts and coordinates numerous networking and educational events in a normal year, and helped stimulate a key public declaration: commitment to the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles (UN WEP) in 2019. With the seven principles as guidance, CWB started its formal journey by measuring its achievement, and rated as an “improver” in this program. This signifies that progress has been made to recognize and illustrate the importance of gender equality – but there is more to do. “UN WEP was an important catalyst. It provided an excellent roadmap for how we can ensure that we empower women in all activities across our organization,” says Bindu Cudjoe, Sr. VP, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary. “We’ve used that momentum to apply the same approach to empower our Black, Indigenous and racialized colleagues, clients and community members.”
The work ahead feels more achievable with strong leadership helping to clear the way. Kelly Blackett, CWB’s Executive Vice President, Human Resources and Corporate Communications, was recognized with two national leadership awards in 2020 in part for her advocacy of inclusion and diversity. Employees in CWB’s banking centres say that type of visibility is noticeable. “Gender equality has come a long way in the 15 years since I started with CWB,” says Giselle Pieczonka, Relationship Manager in Winnipeg. “We’re doing the right things, such as implementing organization-wide unconscious bias training and being more deliberate to challenge our hiring and promotion practices to ensure they are not biased.” “These are all great steps - and there’s more to do,” says Bindu. In 2020, CWB raised its female representation goals at the Board of Director and Executive Committee levels, with the board aiming to have 40% of its directors be women and the Executive Committee becoming comprised of 30% women.
The expanded goals also included an important new dimension: CWB set a target to have 5% of the Board and Executive Committee be members of the Black, Indigenous or racialized communities. “Signing on to the UN WEP helped us look holistically at what we do to be inclusive and diverse,” Bindu says. “With women’s empowerment as the model, we know that we must apply the same approach, beyond gender, to advance our organization.” Those advancements are again showing up at the employee level, with five new ERGs joining CWB Women and CWB Pride (LGBTQ+) in the last half of 2020:
- CWB NOBLE – a Network of Black Employees and Allies
- Sharing Circle - Indigenous Peoples and Allies
- Health 360 – supporting health and wellness
- New Canadians and Allies
- VIDA (Visible and Invisible Disability Advocates)
And as CWB’s employees are embracing the rich diversity within the organization, CWB’s banking centres embrace those opportunities in their own communities. One example is the Richmond banking centre, where Dan Preto and Angela Chan draw and deepen relationships with the large and local Asian community by celebrating Lunar New Year. Offers of gold coins (a special promotion on specific deposit amounts) and gifts of red envelopes aren’t just traditional offerings of good luck - they make for better business. “It’s an incredibly important time of year for the people of Richmond, but also our banking centre,” says Dan. “It makes for a special client experience that has turned more Richmond families into CWB clients.”
How an organization optimizes inclusion and diversity is just as important as the effect it can produce. For CWB, what started as an employee movement in support of empowering women became an international commitment, new leadership opportunities and a richer way to grow a more inclusive workplace culture from coast-to-coast. As businesses chart their own inclusion journey, distinct communities – both inside and outside the organization – might be the best place to start.