Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 18, 2004
Keep it out of the workplace
Rainbow triangles enforce a belief instead of creating 'safty' for workers
On the Other Hand
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
About 2,000 Royal Bank employees in Ontario are being asked to participate in a trial Safe Space program involving display of the gay advocacy Rainbow Triangle symbol on their desks as a visible acknowledgment for individuals who are gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual that they are accepted in the workplace.
Employees were told of the plan in a bank online newsletter entitled Rainbow Space: "The Safe Space Program, introduced within Service Delivery Central Canada, 'highlights the importance of sexual preference as one of RBC's diversity elements.' . . . (and is) designed to provide a non-threatening way for employees to send the message that homophobia and hostility will not be tolerated within RBC."
GAY, LESBIAN MARKET
A feature article in Marketing Magazine's Sept. 27 issue quotes RBC Financial vice-president of diverse markets Rob Johnston saying that effective communication with the gay and lesbian market goes beyond external marketing strategies. "We think that the way to best demonstrate to the community your appreciation and understanding is to live it from the inside out," said Johnston.
This rubs me the wrong way. I've been a Royal Bank customer for some 40 years and I own some RBC mutual fund units. However, I'm considering switching banks. That is if I can find a financial institution that is prepared to remain neutral in the culture wars.
I've been down this road before. Five years ago, I pulled a mutual fund portfolio out of Canada Trust's CT Market Partner brokerage, to protest that company's awarding its Scholarship for Outstanding Community Leadership, worth more than $50,000, to a teenager selected for a campaign she launched to fight homophobia in Winnipeg schools.
I didn't much appreciate my fund management and trailer fees going to reward and endorse such a politically biased and morally controversial initiative. Unhappily, Canada Trust later merged with TD Bank, which I also did business with. I've stopped banking there and am winding down my other relationships with the merged entity as well.
An over-reaction some might say; inconsistent even, for someone who makes part of his living writing about Apple computers and the Macintosh operating system - Apple being notably pro-gay in its employment policies.
However, there is a major distinction, at least as I see it. I have no business relationship with Apple Computer other than as a customer from time to time. When I buy a product from them, the profit they derive from it is their money. Banks are different. When I'm a bank customer, the bank is using my money, and I believe it is inappropriate for it to be promoting or facilitating political agendas, which is what this highly-visible Safe Space program amounts to.
I have no quarrel with banks hiring gays or serving homosexual clients - even cultivating their business if they can make a buck at it. Nor would I want RBC offices to be unsafe or even unfriendly places for gay people. I deplore mean-spiritedness directed at anyone. However, it's a giant leap from exercising a policy of civility and decency, to engaging in overt political advocacy.
RBC's Customer Relations manager Wayne Korbin tells me in an email that the Safe Space Program was initiated by group of employees and will be reviewed after three months.
That doesn't get RBC off the hook for allowing it to proceed. Imagine, if you will, a group of pro-life RBC employees proposing a program for workers to display anti-abortion symbols on their desks. The idea would get slapped down pronto, and rightly so in my estimation, notwithstanding that I'm strongly anti-abortion. That sort of political advocacy would be inappropriate in the workplace of a financial institution.
So is the Safe Space program. Which is something RBC and the employee activists pushing the display of rainbow triangles evidently don't grasp. The political gay rights agenda is every bit as offensive to a large proportion of the public as the political anti-abortion movement is to certain others. Both should be unacceptable in bank business space.
WHAT ABOUT THE DISSENTER?
And while Korbin emphasizes that the Safe Space Program "is completely voluntary," you have to wonder how any employee who refuses on the basis of conscience to display a triangle will be treated in the workplace.
However, finding a bank that hasn't climbed on the political correctness bandwagon is a challenge. The Marketing article notes that BMO Financial Group's gay marketing initiatives include advertising in specialty publications, direct mail and sponsorship of events like Pride Week. Lifesite reports that the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce this year joined forces with homosexual activists, hosting a Gay Pride reception to coincide with Toronto's Gay Pride parade, in which CIBC employees carried a company-endorsed banner.
Scotiabank appears, thus far, to be the least offensive alternative among the big five banks, with a diversity Web page articulating a relatively sensible and apolitical policy.