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  • by John Ruda
  • MD, Inst Strategy & Analytics Advisor Management , TD Ameritrade Institutional

Bring Your Whole Self to Work

We’ve seen more focus on the importance of diversity in the workplace. Diversity is becoming a more mainstream conversation nationally, but not without some controversy. So what can we be thinking about as we look to lead organizations through these challenges?

In a recent a workshop I attended on strategy and innovation, a professor shared a quote:

“If only the organization knew what it already knows.”

R-L: John Ruda, Becca Levin, Matt Brodman, Enya Lee, and Joey Carron at NYC Pride Parade 2017

It stuck with me. I couldn’t help but think about it from our TD Ameritrade perspective. We have thousands of Associates and advisor clients serving millions of investors. That’s a treasure trove of potential solutions to problems, ideas for new programs and services, and other collective knowledge we have within reach. But, without the right environment and attitudes, only a fraction will be uncovered.

At National LINC in 2017, Salim Ismail talked about the emergence of what he calls “exponential organizations” as technology allows the pace of innovation to accelerate. Salim cites Moore’s Law that emerged in the 1970s, finding that computing power was doubling every two years as transistors became more advanced. Today, Salim is seeing evidence that the rapid doubling, or exponential growth, is activated as industries and firms become information enabled. With the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, technology is helping us understand and connect vast amounts of information.

Are we as leaders similarly doing all we can to help our own organizations become more information enabled, not just with technology, but through the biggest asset we have: our people and their diversity of thought? Many firms are demonstrating progress on hiring diverse teams, but a diverse team without an inclusive culture doesn’t get us far. Maybe we also need another type of AI: Authentic Inclusion.

While I’m gay and proud to be my authentic self personally and professionally today, that wasn’t the case for the first 25 years of my life. Knowing how different it feels to be able to be the real me (energizing) vs. covering big parts of who I am (exhausting), I’ve been happy to be a part of our inclusion journey at TD Ameritrade.

Reflecting on what we’ve learned thus far through our TD Ameritrade journey to create a more inclusive culture with our increasingly diverse team, a few guidelines have emerged:

Share your story

We’re all different in some ways, but we all have a story. Our willingness to share our stories is a gift we can keep giving. We’re not perfect. We have differences. We’ve had hardships. We’ve had triumphs. Being vulnerable enough to share parts of our own authentic story creates the safety someone else may need to come out from covering their own story. My mom passed away when I was 24. Down to her final days, I still gave myself every excuse not to share that I’m gay. I missed the opportunity to give my mom the gift of my whole story There’s no better time than the present to embrace vulnerability and start sharing more of your story.

Allies are an accelerator

As part of our diversity & inclusion efforts, we decided to launch local LGBT-focused employee resource groups across TD Ameritrade. For every LGBT Associate that put their hand up to be part of it, there were probably at least 10 times as many allies who emerged. These allies are people who felt it was important to understand the needs of others. They asked questions. They put themselves in the shoes of the LGBT Associate. They did research. But they also found ways to affect change through their roles in the organization. Our Human Resource partners evolved our benefits offering to address transgender needs. We reviewed our employment protections to ensure no TD Ameritrade Associate could be fired based on sexual orientation or gender identity (still a possibility today in many U.S. states).

Think big, act small

While we rallied around the big goal of achieving a 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index and designation as a “Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality”¹ (I’m proud to say we achieved just that for the past two years!), just as important are the small, local moments that leaders create in support of inclusion. Tom Nally carried the TD Ameritrade banner the first year we marched in Fort Worth Pride. Leaders have displayed LGBT-friendly markers (rainbow flag, equality symbol) at their workspaces. Colleagues ask me about my husband just like they’d ask about a straight teammate’s spouse. And in 2017, we’ve had more than 500 Associates, friends, family, and partners participate in Pride marches in our major office locations. Each small, personal act of inclusion breaks down a barrier or creates safety. An honest question. An invitation into a project meeting. A visible sign of support. Think of what a message we can send to someone with these simple steps. A single spark can start a revolution.

These three factors are, in part, helping us create a more inclusive culture at TD Ameritrade. When we can tap into more of what an Associate brings to the table as a unique individual, but then connect their information with that of the many other unique team members, we can work toward better problem solving and more transformational ideas for how we can bring value to our clients. In contrast, if we have the same voices at the same table every time, we won’t get innovation. Research has shown that teams of traditional subject matter experts don’t perform as well as teams that include “outsiders.” To invite outsiders in and make it safe for their perspectives to emerge, we first need to create an inclusive culture that welcomes that diversity of thought.

Whether it’s standing on the side of our clients, helping out in the communities where we live and work in, or creating a better Associate experience. Together, we can engage in topics, activities, and education that successfully remove barriers and allow each of us bring our unique and enriching experiences to the table. To help this culture of innovation permeate the organization and create value for our clients, we work to ensure that we have an associate base that reflects the client base.

To anyone who looks, loves, lives, thinks, or feels “different” and is considering working with us, please know that our mantra isn’t just something we say. Here, we live this core value. It makes us better.

Edwin Elliot said, “By being yourself, you put something wonderful in the world that was not there before.” I truly believe this.



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Comments (1)

  1. Skip Schweiss says:

    Terrific perspective, John! I love being on the team with you and experiencing your creativity and courage. Thanks for leading.

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