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Ula Ubani: three leadership lessons I’ve learned from BMO’s award-winning CHRO 

 Ula Ubani is BMO’s Chief Ethics Officer & Head, Customer Complaint Appeals. In 2021, she was among the recipients of the WXN (Women’s Executive Network) Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards. 

Widely considered the “gold standard” for inclusive leadership, the Catalyst Honours Champions program celebrates exceptional role models who are accelerating progress for women in the workplace. This year, one of the winners is Mona Malone, BMO’s Chief Human Resources Officer and Head of People & Culture. 

Mona has led numerous high-profile initiatives that have transformed BMO’s approach to diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI), including our five-year enterprise strategy: Zero Barriers to Inclusion. What’s less well known is the impact she’s made at a personal level as a mentor to many women leaders at BMO – including me. 

Here are three lessons I’ve learned from Mona that have shaped the way I lead my team: 

  • Difficult conversations lead to growth. Several years ago, I applied for a next-level role on Mona’s team. I was shortlisted, but the job went to someone else. To my surprise, Mona followed up with a face-to-face meeting. She acknowledged my disappointment and explained why she made her choice, turning a difficult experience into an opportunity for learning and reflection. I now incorporate similar conversations into my own hiring process. 
  • Tools and training level the playing field. One reason Mona is such an effective DEI leader is that she recognizes that creating opportunities for advancement isn’t enough – people need the right tools and skillsets to succeed. Under her leadership, BMO invested CAD$67 million in learning and development in 2022, including programs designed to prepare women and other equity-deserving colleagues for leadership roles.  
  • Achieving goals matters. Mindset matters even more. Mona has brought new clarity and discipline to our diversity representation planning, enabling BMO to achieve our North American enterprise goal of 40 to 60 per cent sustainable gender equity ahead of schedule. Importantly, her leadership of Zero Barriers to Inclusion has also changed the conversation at BMO. We now talk more openly and transparently about inclusion, and there is broad understanding of the need to check our own biases. It’s a shift in mindset that has laid the groundwork for lasting change. 

Mona’s recognition as a Catalyst Honours Champion is a major achievement, and a reflection of her extraordinary contributions to BMO’s culture of inclusion. To the title of Champion, we can add others as well: mentor, advisor, coach, role model and friend. I’m grateful that so many of us have had the opportunity to benefit from her insights and her deeply empathetic approach to leadership.

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