The Bank of Montreal is empowering employees to become allies for their co-workers in the LGBTQ2S+ community.

As part of its Zero Barriers to Inclusion 2025 strategy, released in September 2020, BMO launched its Road to Allyship training program to help employees on their own journey to allyship during Pride Month this June. The program is made up of three distinct components — the importance of allyship, how everyone can make a difference and how to turn good intentions into meaningful actions, says Vanessa Lewerentz, the bank’s chief inclusion officer. “It shows employees how to make a difference by standing up for people who are unheard, or underheard, within our workplace and our branch network.”

Read: Pride Month: Institutional investors focusing on inclusivity, social factors

Since completing the training program, Lewerentz has learned she’s not the only employee who didn’t know what it feels like to identify with a marginalized community. “If you don’t have that lived experience, [then] you don’t know what it’s like identifying with the LGBTQ2S+ community. The training program is eye-opening.”

The program also helps employees recognize when their colleagues don’t feel included and how to take steps to change that, she says, adding employees have noted it’s helped them understand how to make a difference within their workplace and community. “Allyship is something we feel very strongly at BMO and it’s important across all of our 14 employee resources groups. We encourage and we want people to understand that the differences make the whole.”

Read: What employer participation in Pride means to employees

Through the training, BMO employees have been able to have difficult conversations about how individuals can show up for each other, says Lewerentz, noting it encourages staff to ask questions and educate themselves on the issues so they’re more aware, empathetic and active listeners. Now, when employees see micro-aggressions from their colleagues, they know they can step up and speak up.

Overall, she says the bank is aiming to create an inclusive workplace that’s equitable and enables employees to be their authentic selves, which is why it’s continued its focus on a gender pronoun initiative, rolling out the program to 64 branches throughout Canada. Initially launched in 2018, the bank’s program provides branch managers with the tools and resources required to train employees to have inclusive conversations with customers. Lewerentz says the bank’s gender pronouns initiative has also been embedded throughout its mentorship/executive sponsorships and talent management processes and BMO encourages people to use their preferences in email signatures and in application processes.

“Through these initiatives, we’re doing what we can as an organization to build a culture where we empower employees to speak up and be part of the change.”

Read: BMO introducing expanded diversity strategy to address gaps