By encouraging employees to be their authentic selves at work, pension plans can make better investment decisions, says Adrian Mitchell, vice-president of public equities at the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan.

“I think having some out LGBTQ people around demonstrates to everyone else it’s safe to be who you are. We’re going to make better decisions if we listen to a broad range of views and for everyone around those tables, knowing it’s OK to be gay also means it’s OK to say you think interest rates are going up when everyone else in the room thinks they’re going down. . . . I’m interested in how to bring effective groups together [and] I think a core element to building effective teams is creating psychological safety. You need to enable people to feel they belong and be their authentic selves.”

Read: HOOPP focusing on DEI, stopping anti-Black racism

With many in the Canadian financial sector recognizing there’s more to be done to address diversity, equity and inclusion matters, organizations in the industry are actively thinking about how they can make progress on this issue, he says. The HOOPP’s DEI strategy includes employee resources groups, which connect staff members with common life experiences to share with their colleagues and foster an inclusive workplace. Mitchell is a member of the pension plan’s LGBTQ resources group.

“To some extent, we’re also asking our suppliers and partners how they’re addressing these issues and we’re learning from each other. We’re collectively trying to do better and if we see good ideas at other organizations, we’re happy to copy them. [At the HOOPP], we ask questions when people apply for jobs more than we did in the past, so we can gather the data to ensure we have diverse hiring pools when making candidate decisions.”

Mitchell says his personal experience at the HOOPP has been “very generous and welcoming,” noting the pension was very early in offering same-sex spousal benefits. And effective July 1, the HOOPP is offering gender-affirmation benefits and fertility coverage to permanent employees and their dependants. The gender affirmation offering includes certain basic surgical procedures not available through the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, as well as additional coverage for surgical procedures to align feminine or masculine features to the transitioned gender, according to a statement from the HOOPP.

Read: Employers embracing diversity, but more work to be done

“When same-sex marriage became legal in 2003, I went down the hall to the chief investment officer and told him I’m going to marry my partner and he didn’t skip a beat. He congratulated me and made sure I got the same party in the boardroom as everyone else.”

Institutional investors are also supporting diverse workplaces and progressive employment policies through an increased focus on environmental, social and governance factors, says Sarah Bratton Hughes, head of sustainability for Schroders North America.  “In 2019, it was the year of Greta [Thunberg], where all things environmental were in focus. Then in 2020, you had the pandemic and people were really focused on supply chains and how companies were treating workers, such as their access to health care. . . . When you couple that with the inequality protests in the U.S., 2020 was the year of social factors taking over.”

Read: Canada’s institutional investors focusing on social factors in 2021

While investors have traditionally focused on diversity from a racial or gender perspective, LGBTQ considerations are “definitely moving onto investors’ radar. When people have talked about diversity in the workforce, it started with gender and then ethnicity, but other forms of diversity are now getting a lot of attention, whether it’s sexual orientation, cognitive ability or disabilities.”

And with corporate culture a key driver of long-term returns, governance factors are also integral to the strategy, says Bratton Hughes. “We’re ensuring companies have policies and procedures in place around diversity, equity and inclusion and we work with them to ensure turnover across these factors. At the board level, we’ve made progress in terms of gender and ethnic diversity and we continue to push that forward. . . .

“Everyone wants to separate ESG factors, but if you really want to make those organizational changes and embed it into your enterprise risk, you need governance and you need it at the highest level.”

This is the last story in a series of articles running this month to dive into how the human resources, benefits, pensions and institutional investment industries are supporting the LGBTQ2S+ community during Pride Month and beyond.

Read the first story in the series here: Pride Month: TD taking intersectional approach to supporting LGBTQ2S+ employees

Read the second story in the series here: Pride Month: How employers can create a more inclusive work culture

Read the third story in the series here: Pride Month: CN Rail dispute ‘catalyst’ for same-sex pension plan policy reviews