It took Tim Thompson 17 years before he came out at work.
Thompson (now Senior Vice President of Canadian Personal Banking Strategy and Transformation at TD), joined the bank in 1990 at a time when members of the LGBT community were being jailed in many countries around the world. Four years after he started with TD, his workplace became the first North American bank to offer same sex spousal benefits to employees. And while TD's policy was progressive, Thompson still felt the culture fell short of him being comfortable enough to open up to his colleagues about his sexual orientation.
He likely wasn't alone. Ten years after the benefits policy was introduced, only 55 of TD's 55,000 employees at the time had felt comfortable enough to enlist in the benefits program.
"I didn't really see any upside to coming out at work," says Thompson. "In fact, I saw that it could be detrimental to my career. I worried that perhaps someone wouldn't like me, or it could make relationships more difficult. It was a very different time back then in both business and society at large."
Sharing his identity
Understanding the humanitarian and business imperative for greater diversity and inclusion, in 2005, the Diversity Leadership Council was established by the bank along with the LGBTA Working Group. Shortly after this, TD's first LGBT-themed ads featuring the TD logo on a Pride rainbow flag were introduced to market, and the bank became the first major Canadian bank to sponsor a Pride Festival.
While these changes were taking place at work, Thompson watched and waited. It wasn't until he moved into a new role that he became exposed to conversations at the leadership level about the very topics that his colleagues didn't know were affecting him personally.
"I was able to see firsthand how senior leaders spoke about things, get a sense of how they actually felt. I didn't really think about it at the time but reflecting back, these conversations were creating a safe environment for me incrementally."
In 2007 Thompson decided to begin sharing his identity with his colleagues.
"It was a culmination of things – feeling like I was in a safe environment, having leadership engaged in the conversation, and seeing authentic displays of support for my community," says Thompson, who told his boss first.
"And then it was sort of a trickle effect. It was like a big weight lifted off my shoulders. It takes a lot of emotional energy to not bring your whole self to work, to constantly check yourself and put and keep your walls up."
Valuing our own diversity
For Thompson, coming out gave him the freedom to fully engage at work beyond his day job and propelled him to get involved in diversity initiatives at the bank. Now as Chair of TD's LGBTQ2+ Executive Steering Committee, he helps drive inclusion for colleagues, customers and communities through various activities including employee experience, talent development and acquisition, and customer programs. Thompson says he's very proud of the recent evolution to TD's abbreviation with the addition of Queer, Two Spirit and +.
"To me it encapsulates TD's willingness to learn and adapt over time and signals to my community that we understand and appreciate the complexity and diversity of the community."
Thompson highlights that the experiences of all community members are not the same, including for women, transgender and gender non-binary, bisexual and queer, Two-Spirit, visible minorities, and community members living outside of large urban markets. He says more work needs to be done to ensure experiences for all members of the LGBTQ2+ community are welcoming.
"We have a belief system at TD that if you get 10 people around a table to solve a problem and it's a diverse group of 10 people - diversity in all its beauty and complexity by the way - that you will get a better answer. The reality is that individuals doing things is how things change. And if nobody does anything, nothing will change. Once you understand that, I think it's almost unlimited the amount of progress we can make."
Today, twenty-eight years after he first walked through the doors at TD, unable to share his true self, Thompson was recognized by the Financial Times as a Top 100 LGBT+ Role Model. He credits TD's senior leadership commitment to an inclusive culture, and passionate colleagues that empowered him to lead while working collectively to create more empathetic communities and workplaces that are built on open dialogue, for the recognition.
Thompson now regularly hears stories of people who came out at TD before coming out to their own families because they felt safe and valued in their workplace.
"Part of what informed my decision to delay coming out at work was that I grew up in a small town. I learned at a young age how to act – and how not to act, and how to be what society expected me to be," he says. "When I look back now I never thought I would or could have worked for an organization where I'd be in a position to help change the conversation. It's quite something."
Tim Thompson, SVP Canadian Personal Banking Strategy and Transformation, was recently named as one of the OUTstanding Role Models for 2019. The list recognizes and celebrates LGBTQ2+ executives from around the world who are creating more inclusive organizations and communities. Tim was also named to the list in 2018.