Scotiabank's new policy to include same-sex partners of employees on its medical insurance plan is meant to allow employees to be open about who they are, the bank's director of human resources, Stephen Lalonde, told Newsday on Thursday.
"As an organisation we believe in the rights to create a safe and inclusive environment for all our employees, and the goal there is that everybody can bring their best and authentic selves to work and produce the best work the can when they do that," said Lalonde. The bank in TT, which is part of the Canadian banking group, announced the policy on Wednesday.
Lalonde said as a multi-national organisation, Scotiabank believes all employees have a right to be treated fairly and equally.
"We truly believe in inclusiveness and we wanted to do something that would help stimulate additional dialogue in the market and the region to build equality and inclusiveness."
Scotiabank is in Barbados, Guyana, Antigua, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and the Cayman Islands. Scotiabank TT is the first in the region to insure same-sex partners. Lalonde said Scotiabank Barbados is working on doing the same by the end of the year.
The bank has an employee resource group which is a grassroots movement of employees made up of LGBT+ staff and allies that helped the HR and legal teams create the benefits programme.
Scotiabank has a zero tolerance policy for bullying, and has many internal policies that discuss inclusion and non-discrimination.
"If people feel as if they have been discriminated against, we have multiple panels for them to be able to raise any of the concerns," said Lalonde.
Transgender employees are also protected under Scotiabank's anti-discrimination policy. A person can transition while working at Scotiabank and still be able to keep their job.
"Absolutely no issue for us...We would fully welcome that as an organisation...As an inclusive workplace, we ensure that various populations are all represented. We don't discriminate in any way, shape or form, the LGBT+ community is one of those aspects, but we also have policies with women, employees with disabilities and ageism."
He said the management believed making the bank an inclusive and safe space was the right thing to do.
"We also noticed our organisation has people from the LGBT+ community, some more open than others, but we want to make sure that every day when they come to work or when they connect form home, they feel comfortable and safe to be who they are, and they don't need to hide themselves."
Scotiabank's inclusive policies extend also to religious inclusion.
"We don't discriminate around any religious beliefs. We welcome people from all denominations to express their religious customs within the organisation such as wearing a hijab."
That includes being able to step away from their workstation to pray. He said he isn't aware of any local employee who does that right now, but at the head office in Canada there is a prayer room where people can step away and practice their faith.
"It's a special room that is designated for that particular purpose. Regardless of your faith, you can go to that space and practice your faith in a quiet and enclosed environment which allows people to exercise their right to religion. In Trinidad, if anyone were to ask for it we will certainly be able to accommodate."
Rudi Hanamji, co-chair of Pride TT, said the bank's move was extraordinary, but long overdue.
He said there are many multinational corporations in TT where the international head offices have inclusive policies, but they do not have the same policies locally.
"The same way that the laws are reminiscent of bygone eras where our colonial masters have long since moved on, the international headquarters have policies and protocols that have recognised inclusion and diversity. But locally, the multinational corporations have not adopted those polices," he said.
"We welcome it, but all the others need to follow suit and even the local, domestic corporations need to understand how important it is to have these polices."
He said companies do not need to wait on legislation such as the amendment of the Equal Opportunity Act to make the change.
"That is passe right now. If the companies wanted to do it, they could do it," he said. "We are looking forward to them also investing in our community projects — corporate Trinidad that is — because the LGBT community is a wide cross-section of their consumer base."