Girish Ganesan: “Go beyond optics”

Go beyond optics. While many organizations demonstrate a visible commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, a key test of this commitment is how D&I is considered during times of challenge. I am super proud of how TD has showed up during these challenging times in support of the colleagues, customers and communities we serve. As we […]

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Go beyond optics. While many organizations demonstrate a visible commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, a key test of this commitment is how D&I is considered during times of challenge. I am super proud of how TD has showed up during these challenging times in support of the colleagues, customers and communities we serve. As we move forward, it will be important to acknowledge if the problems are structural, the solutions should be as well. Rather than being a ‘program’ or a one-off push to respond to the current situation, colleague experience and an organization’s commitment to D&I needs to be sustained and implemented into processes and procedures.


As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Girish Ganesan.

Girish Ganesan is Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion and Head of US Talent at TD Bank, where he leads a team dedicated to the growth, development and connectedness of TD’s 90,000 employees through D&I and Talent strategies. He serves on the Board of Association of Talent Development and Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism. An international professional, Girish has won several accolades including 2019 Canada’s Top 40 under 40 and Top Future Leader by HR.com for three years in a row from 2016 to 2018. He is a known leader among diverse communities, mentoring internationally trained professionals and underrepresented people of color and LGBTQ2+ community members.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’ a bit. Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine, and shadows will fall behind you” by Walt Whitman has been relevant over the years from starting a new life when I immigrated to Canada from India in 2001 to moving to Singapore for another restart in 2012 to finding a work-life rhythm in 2020. I grew up in a self-reliant and independent household where I was taught that to achieve what you desire takes perseverance, persistence, resilience and believing in yourself even at the most difficult times.

2020 tested many of us personally and professionally, but it was also about moving forward. I personally contracted the virus, which left me quite ill for several weeks, but I couldn’t let my personal life interfere with my duty to my colleagues and TD’s 90,000 employees. As the Global Head of D&I, I had a key role to play in helping to move the organization forward, not just in response to COVID-19, but also through the social and civil unrest that occurred last year and continues into 2021.

Walt Whitman’s quote essentially says that despite any challenges along the way, we will get through it and will have another opportunity to do better. It’s about showing up and moving forward even when the world is upside down. It’s essentially an affirmation that you are capable of choosing how you react to the things that happen to you — good or bad.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

There are many diverse traits that great leaders encompass but at the core, it’s about building trust, being authentic and most importantly, knowing that it’s a journey that takes a team. There are three principles that I use to define leadership.

The first is having the heart of an entrepreneur and the spirit of a leader. The entrepreneurial attitude can be a leader’s strongest asset because it’s centered around continuous renewal of growth. Leaders view challenges as opportunities. They care. They build trust, and they’re committed to growing and gaining through experiences. They inspire people to imagine what’s possible, crafting a course for getting there and enabling them to carve out their unique roles and contributions on the path to progress.

The second is confronting and meeting moments of adversity. Today’s leaders are faced with adversity almost every day, and how they confront it and lead through it are the defining moments in their careers. Leaders who have endured adversity are most likely to be the ones with the resiliency needed to evolve, move forward and succeed.

And finally, the third principle is important to me personally, not just professionally, and it’s fostering a sense of belonging. We live in an increasingly complex world. And we do business in a hyper-competitive market. As the world changes around us, disrupted by technology and globalization, everyone wants to feel part of something. To feel connected to someone. To feel included in every conversation, interaction and moment. To feel empowered — at work and in life. Belonging is essential to developing a sense of engagement. It’s one of the most powerful levers for a leader. Used properly it elevates the nature of work with a sense of purpose that brings people together for common cause and encourages them to bond with one another in the work they do.

The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

The divides we see now have always existed in our society. But what we are experiencing is a perfect storm — a combination of the economic, humanitarian and health crises that have magnified inequities that have existed for years in the U.S. They stem from how most of society has chosen to place value on some social identities while actively devaluing others. I think there are several factors at play:

  • People in power and who have power are feeling increasingly threatened by the prospect of change.
  • The changes to and speed of communication through social media have heightened the culture wars by giving voice to people who were previously voiceless or in the shadows of our national discourse. In some instances, it has been used to organize, unify and engage people in social change focused on equity, but in other cases, it has been used to spread disinformation that is meant to divide our society and maintain the status quo.
  • Organizations are using the word “racism” — not bias or other euphemisms — which signals to me that we might finally be ready to get honest about where we are and how far we have to go to build an antiracist society.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion, including neurodiverse colleagues? Can you share a story with us?

Diversity and Inclusion is my calling and has always been important to me, but especially now given everything that’s going on in the world. I think the workplace has the opportunity to be one of the safest and inclusive places that promotes a connectedness for all. We spend at a minimum 8 hours a day at work after all.

At TD, our goal is to continually seek ways to build the most inclusive bank that fosters a culture of care, inspires innovation and encourages respect, rooted in a desire to give our customers, communities and colleagues the confidence to thrive in a changing world.

To achieve these objectives, we focus on:

  • Embedding Diversity and Inclusion across the employee life cycle.
  • Being intentional and proactive in increasing representation of unrepresented groups in our workforce.
  • Fostering individual accountability across the Bank for diversity and inclusion through ongoing leadership development, education and awareness.
  • Leveraging our social impact platform to promote inclusion and support for marginalized and vulnerable communities.
  • Actively developing strong business relationships with diverse communities.

I can go on and on, but we’ll will be discussing this question all day. Since April is Autism Awareness Month, I’ll shed light on the importance of promoting neurodiversity and our efforts at TD.

TD partners with Specialisterne, an organization that helps companies hire individuals on the autism spectrum. While the program only recently started to be used by the Bank in the U.S., it is now in its fifth successful year of use by TD in Canada. Through the partnership, TD has implemented a hiring model, which involves updating job descriptions that could be limiting, adjusting the interview process to be task-oriented vs clichéd behavioral questions and training hiring managers in autism awareness and clarity of communication.

Another key initiative geared toward neurodiversity is the Enabling Leaders program in partnership with The Humphrey Group, a talent development program designed to support colleagues with disabilities. By participating in this program, colleagues who identify as having a disability receive tools for career development and mechanisms to become more confident to find their voice to self-advocate.

I would encourage you to read Case Johnson’s story to learn more about our initiatives and success of colleagues like Case who we are proud to have at TD.

https://stories.td.com/ca/en/article/autism-awareness-month-case-johnson-thrives-on-seeing-the-world-in-a-different-way

While racial, ethnic and gender diversity should be at the forefront as well, organizations should also recognize that a lack of neurodiversity means missing out on a significant talent pool and diversity of thought.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

As organizations and as a society, I believe there are five key areas of focus that will help us create a more inclusive, representative and equitable world.

  1. Go beyond optics. While many organizations demonstrate a visible commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, a key test of this commitment is how D&I is considered during times of challenge. I am super proud of how TD has showed up during these challenging times in support of the colleagues, customers and communities we serve. As we move forward, it will be important to acknowledge if the problems are structural, the solutions should be as well. Rather than being a ‘program’ or a one-off push to respond to the current situation, colleague experience and an organization’s commitment to D&I needs to be sustained and implemented into processes and procedures.
  2. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable. To accomplish real and permanent change, one must be willing to be vulnerable and uncomfortable. Discussions on equity and race are bound to generate discomfort, but don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn from those who aren’t like you. Discomfort also applies to the steps taken. It is learning the difference between not being racist and being anti-racist. Most people likely consider themselves not racist and would identify the “racist” label as one they would never want assigned to them. Conversely, many of those same people also would not go out of their way to speak out against racial injustice.
  3. Change the narrative. In addition to saying why an equitable society is the right thing to do, we need to make the case for the value it adds because currently, the people on the “winning” side of inequities believe that in order for equity to become a reality, they have to “lose.” We need to craft a narrative that shows with great clarity how equity will improve everyone’s lives, experiences and the conditions in which they live.
  4. Leverage the new virtual world to broaden communities. A silver lining of the pandemic is that it has brought about opportunities for exciting connections across geographies that we never had before. At TD, we have adapted our management structure and support network to ensure that colleagues can interact, collaborate, and effectively conduct business in a remote setting. Many of our bank-wide events have allowed colleagues not only from our major geographical hubs but even from smaller or remote locations to participate for the first time. Now colleagues can connect from anywhere, and these events are open to all. This level of interaction provides an opportunity to communicate with and learn from others who may have different life experiences.
  5. Be the change. The real work is when you start analyzing yourself and your biases. You cannot be inclusive if you have the assumption you are bias-free. Similarly, every time we permit something to go on, we inadvertently support it. Respectfully call out the behavior that isn’t inclusive or equitable to the individual engaging in it. Don’t just ignore it. Encourage the awareness that this is how stereotypes get formed and reinforced.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can reach me via LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/girish-ganesan/

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