This story is an excerpt from the BMO 2019 Sustainability Report.
Tracie Morris was named U.S. Chief Human Resources Officer of BMO Harris Bank in May 2019. In addition to more than 20 years’ experience in HR leadership, she brings a wealth of insights gained as a board member of organizations such as the Business Leadership Council, Women Employed, Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana and Black Ensemble Theatre.
What do organizations still have to learn about diversity and inclusion?
Often people focus on diversity – in terms of gender, colour and other categories of difference – but they forget inclusion, which is about connecting with others – coworkers, leaders, the community – on a personal level, and understanding their stories. Even if someone looks like you, what do you know about the experiences that have shaped their life and outlook? It’s important to learn who someone really is, regardless of external differences. As a new leader at BMO, I work boldly with diverse groups across the bank: I share my story, looking for common areas of interest, and we start to form connections.
How do efforts to strengthen diversity and inclusion affect a company’s success?
Everyone brings a different perspective, and it’s important for all voices to be heard. Women, people of colour, people with disabilities – and yes, white men – you get all of us in a room together, and that’s a more powerful conversation. When teams include people who’ve had different experiences, you see better outcomes. And that positive impact extends outside the bank as well. When you hire someone from an underserved area, you have an impact on their community, because they form a new outlook on life and bring it back home with them.
How did your own background shape the career path you’ve chosen?
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. In the summers, I spent time with my grandmother in Englewood, one of the roughest parts of the city. Even though it wasn’t the best part of the city, there was a community of residents who wanted to do better and be better. People helped each other and tried to build each other up. That made a big impression on me: I wanted to help people who didn’t have as much as I did. My parents were able to send me to private schools, and I was the first African-American kid in my class. My school was Catholic and my family was Baptist, which taught me the lesson of inclusion from a religious and spiritual perspective – and acceptance on a broader level. That’s always been my style, even as a kid: I’m curious about other people and what they can teach me. I started out working for the federal government in Chicago. I wasn’t following my passion there, so I went back to school to study psychology and organizational behavior. Then I found jobs in career development and counselling. And here I am today!
How does inclusion fit in with BMO’s Purpose: Boldly Grow the Good in business and life?
On the business side, it’s everything we do to build talent. Who can we hire so that our bank reflects the community? How do we build a stronger pipeline for women and people of colour? How can we contribute to the business with good systems and practices – and how can we make things better? As for growing the good in life, I look at all the BMO people who volunteer with not-for-profits. They demonstrate the Purpose in meaningful ways. Our efforts through charitable donations, as a bank and through employees’ own giving: it’s all aimed at empowering communities.
How does being a meditation instructor affect how you approach your job?
I’ve been doing yoga and meditation for 18 years. At work, it helps me connect with people in the moment. I want them to know that they are important and have my full attention. If someone is making a big career decision or going through a personal crisis, you need to be completely present, try to see their point of view and give them direction. And in any business situation, you can’t go in with just one sense of how things should go. I try to step back, reflect, then calmly decide what to do.
Going forward, what’s your vision for diversity and inclusion at BMO?
My vision is to have equal focus on diversity and inclusion – especially recruitment and engagement efforts. I’d like to see even more focus on recruiting military veterans, people of colour, people with disabilities. And for current BMO employees, more educational programs, more networking, sponsoring and mentoring. When we spend all day with people who look and think like us, we miss out on so many opportunities to expand our thinking – and that can hurt the bottom line. Also, diversity and inclusion can’t just be focused on leaders; it has to be about what motivates and encourages all employees, because they’re the ones who will carry the message forward.
To learn more, read BMO’s Sustainability Report.