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Reflecting Back and Moving Forward: Diversity & Inclusion at NEO

Many of us are currently experiencing a state of reflection as we reach the anniversary of packing up our desks, saying our face-to-face goodbyes, and heading into a period of great uncertainty. In the orbit of this period is another pivotal time where the murder of George Floyd became a catalyst to the rise of Black Lives Matter protests worldwide, instigating people to take a stand against issues we simply cannot ignore as a society.

The downstream flows of these events hit organizations and now, more than ever, employees are turning to their employers and asking what their firm truly stands for. This has encouraged self-reflection and an internal review of policies, processes, and procedures. Much to my pleasant surprise, I noticed prominent organizations in the finance industry, such as Wealthsimple, rise to the occasion with humility to ask themselves “how do we contribute to these issues; how does unconscious bias play a role in our interactions; and how can we do better for diversity, inclusion, and equality?” At NEO, we have done the same.

Here at NEO, we have always been a progressive organization that takes pride in celebrating our differences and how our firm is enriched as a result of them. However, we also recognize that we are not perfect, and that there is work to accomplish to play our own part in contributing to much-needed societal changes. If we can’t hold ourselves accountable, how will we ever make progress?

Prompted by the tumult of the world around us and a desire to do right by our team and our community, we established a Diversity and Inclusion Committee last summer. We were conscious to avoid going down a path that only echoed empty sentiments. We wanted to ensure that we established programs and policies that have tangible and measurable impacts. We wanted the Diversity and Inclusion Committee to have a broad focus of initiatives to make diversity a part of the NEO fabric, focusing on improving our recruitment processes, intersectional women’s advocacy, communication, and mental health. We’ve made some great headway over the past 8 months!

Upon reviewing our recruitment practices, we made immediate improvements enabling us to access a broader and more diverse talent pool, both with our co-op students and our full-time staff. We have established a formalized Co-op Program partnering with several universities for our internships. This has allowed us to benefit from a consistent rotation of interns, moving away from relying solely on word of mouth referrals, and thus providing opportunities for a broader range of talent from diverse backgrounds.

As a result of our enhanced recruitment strategies for full-time staff between 2020 and 2021, 60% of our new hires are women, and 50% are POC. These positions ranged from interns and entry-level staff through to management levels. NEO has acknowledged that there is both an organizational and industry-wide shortcoming in diversity being represented at all levels of organizations. As such, NEO has flagged this as an area that requires further improvement. We have commenced discussions in order to facilitate an increase in the representation of women and BIPOC across all levels of the organization, including upper management and the Board of Directors.

Our job descriptions have also undergone a revamp, ensuring that the language used in these descriptions do not exhibit gender bias. While this is a seemingly small change, research has shown that gendered use of language in job descriptions has a higher impact on how likely a self-identifying woman will apply for a role, particularly in male dominated fields.

NEO has been a long-standing supporter of the UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles, becoming one of the first Canadian corporations and the first Canadian stock exchange to sign the CEO’s Statement of Support in January, 2019. NEO intends to continue to spearhead industry advocacy through incorporating the Women’s Empowerment Principles in our onboarding process for all new Issuers and Trusted Service Partners, as we encourage our stakeholders to join us in publicly demonstrating their commitment to gender equality.

We recently launched another exciting collaboration at our March 8th NEO Presents: The Path to Zero Barriers event in honour of International Women’s Day. We were excited to announce that NEO has become a Founding Partner of The Prosperity Project™, a not-for-profit organization conceived by a diverse group of over 60 female leaders across Canada, working to address gender and racial inequity to create a society with zero barriers. NEO’s President and CEO, Jos Schmitt, has also joined the board of directors of The Prosperity Project. To learn more, and to watch a video replay of the event, click here.

Under the umbrella of inclusion, mental health is also a very important topic. COVID-19 has drastically changed the way we work and live, and has placed a heavy weight of added pressure on individuals and households. NEO recently introduced a comprehensive mental health program for our team and respective spouses and dependents, to provide additional support and encourage a culture of openness in efforts to reduce the stigma that can be associated with seeking help. We have partnered with Inkblot Therapy, an organization that assists in connecting individuals to a mental health professional that will best suit their needs. We have also tripled our therapy cost coverage, per employee, through a dedicated mental health support spending account to ensure that the financial cost associated with long-term mental health services does not become a barrier for our team or our family members.

While our Diversity and Inclusion Committee is still young, and we recognize that we have a busy 2021 of implementation ahead of us, I am proud and inspired by our progress, which is made possible by the dedication of our employees who want to see an even better NEO, but also an improved society. I am optimistic about the trajectory NEO is heading in, as well as other organizations in our industry. The work far too often falls on the minorities themselves, but we acknowledge that it takes effort from individuals of all backgrounds to effect lasting change. After all, we are in this together, and it is an aggregate of all of our collective efforts that promotes meaningful societal progress.

Shakira Hudgell
NEO’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee