BMO: Banking on Inclusion

BMO is Canada’s oldest bank. Founded over 200 years ago, BMO started off primarily dealing with fur traders and with Indigenous banking. Since then, the company has developed into North America’s 8th largest bank, with 45,000 employees, 12 million customers across the globe, and valued assets of over 971 billion dollars.

From its roots in Indigenous banking, to the development of recent programs such as “BMO Empower” (a 5 billion commitment over five years to address key barriers faced by minority businesses, communities and families), BMO has consistently focused on building diversity and inclusion into their broader value proposition. Ensuring that sense of inclusion and diversity extends to their own workforce has also been a focus that has evolved in tandem with BMO’s overall corporate development.

As Olivia Weir, Senior Advisor, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at BMO said, “BMO is not a DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) supporter, we want to be a DEI champion.” To that end, the bank has along with evolving, progressive hiring practices instituted monthly listening sessions with different Employee Resources Groups, representing communities such as Women in banking, New Immigrants, Equity-seeking communities, and the disability community (“BMO Without Barriers,”) etc. From these groups have come a keen understanding of the unique needs of different employees and feedback that has often proved the catalyst for a whole host of evolving HR best practices.

It was through the feedback from BMO Without Barriers and the recommendation of some of BMO’s outside HR recruiters that Ready Willing and Able (RWA) came to BMO’s attention. Olivia Weir remembers that RWA popped up on their landscape at an opportune time: “We had just started a new program called Double Down. Double Down is intended to maximize hires from the Indigenous and disability communities–2 communities that we felt deserved particular focus under the inclusive hiring umbrella.” BMO was keen to increase recruitment efforts within the disability community because past efforts had resulted not only in a stronger workforce, but had also led to positive impacts in customer relations. Said Olivia Weir, “Being committed to envisioning and overcoming barriers, and providing accommodations to our employees with a disability also allowed us better envision the hurdles some of our customers with a disability must face. This allows us to develop enhanced products that better serve such customers.”

As a part of these larger inclusive hiring efforts, BMO was keen to partner with RWA because past endeavours in this area were not wholly without some hurdles, particularly in relation to candidates with an intellectual disability or on the autism spectrum. Said Olivia Weir, “We wanted those candidates and were getting those candidates. But something wasn’t working because those candidates weren’t translating into hires. We knew we had to do a better job of meeting such candidates where they were, not where we expected them to be. In helping us do this, RWA proved fantastic.”

The BMO-RWA partnership developed organically over an extended period that allowed BMO to learn what kind of work they needed to do to ensure future inclusive hiring efforts proved more successful. Olivia Weir said, “We were impressed by the robust services on offer and felt RWA could be a window into better understanding candidates. Working with RWA not only would help us find more candidates with an intellectual disability or on the autism spectrum but would position us to serve them better.”

RWA connected BMO recruitment managers with their RWA Works online disability awareness training, and over 100 persons completed the course. This was complemented by the delivery of specific disability awareness presentations to different levels of hiring managers. In tandem with these internal growth efforts, BMO identified jobs within their North American Customer Contact Centre (NACCC) to pilot via RWA and instituted an enhanced screening process. “We developed a 2-stage interview process where the first interview was almost a rehearsal for the second, actual interview. Hiring managers learned how to provide flexible, robust interviews which would accommodate candidates with an intellectual disability or autism, and candidates were allowed an expanded opportunity to communicate their experience and skills,” said Olivia. Within the first round of interviews, 9 candidates participated of which 3 were hired. A second round saw another 18 candidates matched with 18 recruiters of which 4 are now in the final interview process. 

Beyond designing an accommodated interview process, RWA also helped BMO examine what was not working within their existing HR practices. Says Olivia Weir, “Our hiring process for NACCC used to involve an assessment tool (a ‘mock’ customer call) following successful interviews. Candidates with a disability would sail through the interviews but routinely fail on the assessment tool. We learned that the assessment tool was forcing everyone to ‘learn’ in a way that didn’t always play to their learning strengths. So, we dropped the tool, and now successful applicants learn the job in a way that better suits their own skills. RWA helped us hone this individual approach and it worked amazingly well.”

The results for BMO have been remarkable, and they extend well beyond individual hires. Said Olivia Weir, “The partnership has helped us to better meet people where they are. Recruitment managers now have the capacity to give individualized attention to all new employees and help them pivot and adapt. This ability to focus on individuals within a 45,000 strong workforce has only been a change since we started working with RWA because our hiring managers now feel empowered to take that extra step.” Indeed, the overall partnership with RWA is so positive, BMO is now exploring expanding the partnership to other divisions, such as technology and operations roles. 

When asked if she would encourage other employers to partner with RWA and commit more fully to inclusive hiring, Olivia Weir did not hesitate – “None of us have all the answers and none of us are doing it (diverse hiring) perfectly. Take the time to learn and listen, and then hire. It’s the right thing to do for our colleagues, customers, and communities. Inclusive hiring makes sense for all levels of the company, top to bottom, to the actual bottom line.”