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Toronto-Dominion Bank Group President and Chief Executive Ed Clark delivers a speech at the company's annual general meeting in Victoria, March 31, 2011. (Ben Nelms/Reuters/Ben Nelms/Reuters)
Toronto-Dominion Bank Group President and Chief Executive Ed Clark delivers a speech at the company's annual general meeting in Victoria, March 31, 2011. (Ben Nelms/Reuters/Ben Nelms/Reuters)

Advocacy

TD first Canadian bank to join 'It Gets Better' project Add to ...

In the 20 months since it launched, a panoply of individuals and public figures – from President Obama to Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu – have posted videos online as part of the It Gets Better project, to encourage young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who may be struggling with their identity. Now the first of Canada’s big five financial institutions has pitched in with its own video.

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Toronto-Dominion Bank posted its own “It Gets Better” video featuring chief executive officer Ed Clark and a group of TD employees, last Wednesday. The video began as a project conceived by the employee pride network that exists within the company. Mr. Clark asked if he would be welcome to participate.

“What you are, is wonderful,” Mr. Clark says, addressing young people in the video. It also features employees from Toronto, Philadelphia and Montreal, including a branch manager and some in corporate positions, telling their stories of coming out. They highlight their “allies” – parents and friends – who supported them, and encourage others to help “make it better” for LGBT people they know.

It Gets Better was initiated in September, 2010, by Seattle-based columnist Dan Savage, who writes about sex and relationship issues. He made the first video with his partner Terry, whom he frequently refers to in his weekly podcast as his “husband in Canada, boyfriend in America.” Mr. Savage launched the project in an attempt to speak out to counter violence against gay teens, as cases of suicide related to bullying made news with growing frequency.

Since that launch, a number of companies have aligned their brand with the cause, including Nokia, Visa, Deloitte and Telus. And it has been used overtly as a marketing tool as well. Last year, Google released an ad promoting its Chrome web browser by showing the evolution of the It Gets Better movement through its use of Google tools such as the search engine and Google-owned video-sharing service YouTube.

But not every company has featured its CEO in those videos, which often focus more on employee stories. And TD is the first major Canadian financial institution to add its voice to the more than 50,000 videos to date.

“We see it as not just a nice thing to do, but a critical thing to do for us as a company for positioning ourselves for the future – both in being an employer of choice but also the bank of choice for an increasingly diverse population,” said Scott Mullin, TD’s vice-president of community relations.

Many marketers have begun to recognize the value of speaking to the LGBT community, for both reasons of promoting diversity and from a consumer standpoint. In Canada, the gay community comprises more than 2 million people, with an estimated purchasing power of more than $88-billion, according to research by the International Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. While Canada’s largest banks have not all contributed to the It Gets Better project, they have taken steps to speak to the issue. Last week, BMO hosted an event at its branch in the heart of Toronto’s gay community on Church St., to discuss the needs of transgender employees and customers. The bank also supports the Toronto chapter of PFLAG, among other organizations.

Last month, Royal Bank of Canada participated in the anti-bullying Day of Pink, encouraging employees to wear pink to work and raise money for local organizations supporting the cause. The bank also supports National Coming Out day. The TD employees who asked to make the It Gets Better video are part of a Pride Network that was created in 2005, just after the bank announced its first sponsorship of the Toronto Pride parade. Since members of the LGBT community are often an invisible minority, Mr. Mullin said external announcements like this are also a way of signalling to those within the organization where it stands on diversity issues.

“Within any organization, there will be pockets that still exist where homophobia is a real, lived experience in the workplace. Some of those will be on Bay St., in the more ‘old boys club’ type environments ... where inclusion isn’t necessarily the first thing on the Monday morning agenda,” said Brent Chamberlain, the executive director of Pride at Work, a non-profit organization that promotes workplace inclusion. (TD is one of more than 40 corporate partners that support the organization.) “However, there has been an effort by companies to make these changes real, and also roll them out across Canada.”

The LGBT community is an attractive consumer target for marketers, especially since there is a higher instance of double-income households that do not have children and therefore have more disposable income, Mr. Chamberlain said.

“Companies are certainly thinking about how they can connect with the LBGT community, or market to LGBT customers. I would caution them that they need to get their internal house in order first.”

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