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Can your employees bring their whole selves to work?

Given how much time many of us spend at our jobs and forging our careers, it's worth considering the value of being comfortable enough to bring your whole self to work – every day.

Homophobia, transphobia and related bullying are toxic to a free society, so as the Pride season begins across North America – and WorldPride 2014 wraps up in Toronto this weekend – it gives us an opportunity for self-reflection, not only as individuals, but as employers, too.

We often tell people to "just be yourself." But what if just being yourself at work could result in harassment or bullying or more subtle forms of discrimination – the whispers, the exclusionary behaviour?

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It doesn't matter if it's athletes like NHL football player Michael Sam and NBA player Jason Collins dealing with homophobia on the international sports stage or employees facing similar situations at businesses large and small. Homophobia poisons a work environment, which in turn hinders morale, culture, productivity and innovation, while also deterring employees from joining a company. Inclusive workplaces benefit individuals, companies and society.

At Toronto-Dominion Bank, our journey to creating a comfortable workplace for employees who identify as part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community began a decade ago. We surveyed these employees about their experiences and comfort level bringing their whole selves to work.

What we learned was that some employees who identify as LGBT were less likely to feel that TD provided a welcoming and inclusive environment than other employees. As long-time supporters of the broader LGBT community, this was a challenging moment for us as an organization. If you ask people how they are feeling, you have to be prepared for the answers. It's what having a dialogue is all about. Employee engagement is a two-way street.

For TD, it was a call to action to improve.

Since that time, we have had executive leadership from the top, but also grassroots employee networks building a more welcoming environment and a more inclusive culture. We have actively engaged employees on a number of fronts, including receptions, events, focus groups, mentoring and embedding diversity and inclusion in employee development plans. In the community, TD now supports almost 100 LGBT-focused community organizations and 42 Pride festivals across North America each year.

In order to attract the best people, it is essential for any workplace to create a welcoming environment in which every employee is valued, respected and supported. The best organizations want everyone to reach their aspirations; to be their best self.

There is clearly still work to do, from professional sports to corporate Canada, but we are moving in the right direction. I know this personally because, as a gay executive, there was a time when I wasn't comfortable telling colleagues what I did on the weekend.

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When I began working on Bay Street in 1990, we weren't having conversations about this topic. No one was leading the conversation. The fact that we're having these conversations today opens up lines of communication and opens us up as people.

For me, it was a boss who broached the subject directly. She took a risk. That made me feel safe and so I opened up. I'm glad she took a chance because it allowed me to just be me and it allowed her to be an ally.

I used to watch colleagues bring their children to work and I wondered if I would ever be able to do the same. Now, I can bring my three daughters to work and show them off with my partner. And that is a win-win situation for me and my employer.

Tim Thompson is chief operating officer of TD Asset Management and chair of the LGBTA Committee of TD's Diversity Leadership Council.

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