Recognized as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2016)
By Kristina Leung and Richard Yerema, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Feb 23, 2016)
Here are some of the reasons why Amex Bank of Canada was selected as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2016):
- Amex Canada is currently in the process of deploying a Women at Amex strategy to support the development and advancement of women internally and externally -- the strategy includes a number of initiatives such as in-house support for career advancement, support for female-owned or focused businesses in the community and partnerships with other organizations to promote women in leadership
- Amex Canada manages the "Women's Interest Network", an in-house employee group to support networking and community building amongst women -- the group hosts a guest speaker series, collaborative events with the global diversity and inclusion team, and networking sessions
- Amex Canada recently partnered with the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council to offer cultural training sessions and also works with a variety of community organizations including the Job Opportunity Information Network and Catalyst to promote diversity and inclusiveness
American Express Canada nears gender parity at the top
While considering a job offer from American Express Canada, KerriAnn Santaguida decided to test the waters by sharing a personal confidence. Santaguida was four weeks pregnant and wanted to be transparent with her prospective new manager, so she told him. His reply: "No problem. We're investing in you for the long term, not the short term."
At the time, 14 years ago, Santaguida knew no one at Amex Canada who could verify the company's claims to have an inclusive culture based on a strong respect for employees as individuals. But the response to the news that her first child was on the way convinced Santaguida that the company was true to its professed core values. "At that moment, I knew this was the place for me," she says.
A few years later, Santaguida had a second child. One month into her maternity leave, the office called. Would she be interested in a promotion as Director of Sales, Santaguida was asked. "Yes," she replied, and got the appointment while still on leave. "That was proof positive that the first time was not a fluke and that Amex is an outstanding organization," Santaguida says. "Being promoted while on mat leave is not something that you hear about too often, but it is not uncommon at Amex."
Amex makes parenthood and pursuing other interests easier by, among other benefits, offering flexible hours in the workplace or working virtually from home. That's what Santaguida, now Vice President and General Manager of Merchant Services, does most weeks for one or two days. "It provides a work-life balance that allows me to take care of family commitments, as well as participate in my community," she says. For one thing, Santaguida has headed the parent council at her children's school for seven years.
Santaguida's career path makes her an icon for women who may doubt that they can aspire to senior corporate roles without great personal sacrifice. Such development support for women in particular is an essential element of Amex's diversity strategy, according to Naomi Titleman, Vice President, Human Resources. "Any organization can implement diversity programs and policies," Titleman says. "Our secret sauce is having diversity deeply embedded in our culture."
She adds: "We focus on diversity, not because it's the right thing to do, but because it allows access to different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences which we in turn use to serve our customer better."
One result: there is near gender parity in the executive suite with women having 45 per cent of the most senior roles. Meanwhile, the company supports eight employee-driven networks with more than 700 participants as a way to promote inclusiveness. In addition to helping people develop networking and professional skills, the groups also offer safe spaces for frank conversations. "Anecdotes are
much more powerful than any formal theory or training," Titleman says.
Another component of Amex's culture is what it calls sponsorship. "It means having someone pound the table on your behalf," says Titleman.
"It's different from mentorship, which you can ask for as part of your development. Sponsorship is earned."
And can be anonymous. Santaguida only found out after the fact that others had advocated for her as she moved up the corporate ladder. "I was surprised to learn about some of my sponsors, but I am very grateful for their help," she says.
Now, Santaguida is a sponsor herself. However, she makes sure that those she backs know of her sponsorship because of the difference that awareness can make. Says Santaguida: "The level of confidence you get from knowing someone is backing you allows you to shine even brighter."
This article appeared in the magazine announcing this year's Canada's Best Diversity Employers winners, published February 24, 2016 in The Globe and Mail. This article was prepared with the financial support of the employer, which did not write or edit its contents.