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Your tie or your career.

Believe it or not, there was a time in my life when I felt like I had that choice. I was early in my career, working at a financial institution in the US. I had recently come out to my parents and family and was just embarking on the exciting – if scary – journey of figuring out how I wanted to express myself in the workplace.

Today, people who know me know that I am a proud member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and that I love wearing bow ties. It’s kind of my thing. At the time, however, I was still figuring out how I wanted to dress in a professional setting and had started to present myself in a more androgynous way.

Someone made the comment there.

Not long after I adopted this style, which felt much more authentic to me, a then-leader of my organization took me aside after a meeting and told me that while there was nothing wrong with my new style of dress, if I wanted to climb the corporate ladder, I should think about dressing in what he considered a more traditionally feminine way.

In other words, if I wanted to advance in the American business world, I had to ditch the bow tie.

My confidence suddenly plummeted. I was devastated and didn’t want to believe it could be true, but in the days that followed I started to think about it. Maybe I really did have to choose between my identity and my ambition. Between my authenticity and my career.

It’s a decision no one should ever have to make, and if I hadn’t had the support of another manager in my department at the time, I’m not sure I would have been able to make the right decision for myself.

Luckily, there was a woman in my office—a lesbian—who helped me through this difficult time and showed me that this was a place where I could fully contribute to the office. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who was openly 2SLGBTQ+, and this woman was my first—and at that point, my only—professional role model.

For the first time, I was able to see myself through someone else’s success and their mentorship not only helped me move past that hurtful comment but also propelled me forward on my path.

Too often we take for granted having someone to go to when we need to talk. And while allies are incredibly important, there are times when you need a mentor who has been in the same situation as you to help you gain the confidence to overcome the hurdles you face.

Mentoring is important

Thanks to the guidance of my mentor and a whole lot of reflection, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t have to choose one or the other. I chose to believe that I didn’t need to express myself authentically or be ambitious to build my career. I could and should do both, and I couldn’t and shouldn’t accept the limitations that others wanted to impose on me.

That’s when I learned how much mentoring helps advance equity and inclusion, and that’s when I committed to doing my part to support others, too.

I have no doubt that my journey – first having a mentor who made a difference, then developing the confidence to mentor others, which in turn led to me getting involved in 2SLGBTQ+ activities at work – will be a path that many others will share.

When I joined TD just over two years ago, I knew immediately that I was coming to a place that understood the value of this work. Even during the interview, it was clear that at TD I would be surrounded by colleagues who wanted to be a real team. That this was a place where I could fully contribute to the office.

So when I started my job and people asked about me, I knew not only that I could tell them about my wife and children, but that my story would be valued and that others could draw strength and encouragement from my journey.

At TD, our inclusive culture makes us a stronger organization. As someone who has walked this journey myself, I can say from personal experience that when I finally felt like I could be myself in the workplace, I was not only happier at work, but also better at my job.

This experience is not limited to members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. People with different perspectives and life experiences lead to more creative thinking and better problem solving. To attract these colleagues and make them aware that this is where they can build their careers, we need to make sure everyone feels welcome, seen and valued. When everyone feels like work is a place where they can be themselves, it benefits everyone in an organization.

A key part of the culture of care at TD is the result of collaboration among colleagues across the bank, whether through authentic leaders who support others or active allies who aren’t afraid to engage in potentially difficult conversations. This commitment makes us stronger in many ways and is something we must continue to build and nurture every day.

The way forward

As the new chair of the Forever Proud Executive Steering Committee at TD, my role is to lead the bank’s efforts to continue to create an environment where all colleagues can succeed and to further expand our long-standing commitment to the communities in which we operate.

Like many colleagues, it means a lot to me that TD was the first major Canadian bank to sponsor a Pride Festival. As a wife and mother, I am proud to work for an organization that was the first bank in North America to offer same-sex spouse benefits. Now we continue to build on that progress. And one of the best ways to do that is to continue to build allies and mentors.

From the TD-wide 2SLGBTQ+ Mentoring Program – which helps people early in their careers connect with role models and mentors – to our leadership development program focused on building our next generation of talent, to our work with local organizations supporting 2SLGBTQ+ small businesses, building mentoring networks takes time and hard work.

But when I see how my life has changed for the better through mentorship, I am convinced that it is worth the effort.

I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t had a mentor who showed me that I could bring my whole self to work and still be successful professionally. Today, I hope I can be that same authentic leader and mentor to others, not just within the 2SLGBTQ+ community, but to people from all other communities who don’t always feel included in the mainstream. As we embrace the next generation, they can share everything they have to offer with us, bow tie and all.

And that makes us all stronger.

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