Mentoring at the Bank of Montreal: A Case Study of an Intervention That Exceeded Expectations

By Gray, Janet Dreyfus; Lee, Michael J. et al. | Human Resource Planning, December 1995 | Go to article overview

Mentoring at the Bank of Montreal: A Case Study of an Intervention That Exceeded Expectations


Gray, Janet Dreyfus, Lee, Michael J., Totta, Johanne M., Human Resource Planning


The Bank of Montreal has received numerous awards for its overall Workplace Equality Programs and is considered by many to be a model effort that ties diversity to business success. One of the key components is a mentoring program, known as the Executive Advisor Program. This program, which is currently being implemented throughout the Bank's worldwide operations, was carefully researched and strategically planned. To date the program has provided benefits far beyond those envisaged during the planning stages.

The Bank of Montreal, which opened for business in 1817, has combined 6,000 branches internationally and has combined assets of $140 billion. It has a strong focus in the United States through its wholly owned subsidiary Harris Bankcorp in Chicago and was the first Canadian bank listed on the N.Y.S.E. Currently over 30 percent of its income is generated in the U.S. Its 2002 business strategy targets significant U.S. expansion and U.S. revenues up to 50 percent.

The 1990 strategic plan of the Bank, created by new leaders Chairman Matthew Barrett and President Tony Comper, committed the bank to giving all employees equal opportunity to reach their career potential. They sought to: 1) define groups that needed development; 2) find out what barriers existed; 3) break down the barriers; and 4) change the corporate culture. The first group they focused on was women, since they held 91 percent of the bank's non-management jobs but only 9 percent of the executive positions.

The Task Force on the Advancement of Women was mandated to identify constraints to the advancement of women and produce action plans. It did extensive research, including reviewing the HR database, conducting numerous interviews and focus groups, surveying 500 former managers, and conferring with other companies, universities and agencies. The most important part of this research was surveying 15,000 women and men employees. The key finding was that women were not advancing because of stereotypical attitudes, myths, and "conventional wisdom." Employees were asked what the Bank should do to assist women and the number one choice identified by senior women in management was a mentoring program.

Why A Mentoring Program?

The need for mentors among non-traditional managers has been documented in numerous studies. According to research findings cited in Ann Morrison's excellent book, The New Leaders (1992), the lack of mentors and role models is a major barrier for many women and people of color. Research also shows that women and people of color often make poor career decisions and lack organizational savvy about how to get along and get ahead in the corporate world. These individuals often have no one to help them objectively assess their abilities and behavior. They have difficulty knowing how they fit in and how to go about reaching their potential.

Mentoring programs have proven highly beneficial in a number of diversity efforts. Senior managers are assigned to work with more junior employees who can benefit from additional coaching and attention. These programs also encourage dialogues about diversity issues; these conversations can go a long way toward changing unconscious stereotypes and increasing comfort levels around differences. Mentoring programs have been around for a number of years and have varied widely in terms of goals, and structure. Some have been far more effective than others. The Bank of Montreal researched the literature and consultants in the field, and did some careful strategic planning before implementing a pilot program. It also took the tune to lay a strong foundation of support. These efforts paid off.

Program Objectives and Design

The Bank decided to work out a preliminary program design and then bring in a consultant experienced with mentoring programs to refine the design and help implement the program. The original design called for a pilot program to run in Toronto with 10 Mentors (called Advisors), each assigned to 2 mentees, one female and one male. …

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