Growth and innovation rests on diversity

A look at how RBC has leveraged its diverse workforce

RBC has long recognized the value of diversity. The financial institution’s focus on diversity dates back to the early 1970s when it developed an internal task force on the status of women, followed by a focus on employment equity groups in the 1980s and the implementation of comprehensive work-life initiatives in the 1990s. RBC’s definition of diversity has now evolved into a comprehensive model that includes individuals as well as businesses, cultures, geographies and markets.

For RBC, diversity is one of its greatest competitive advantages for developing intellectual capital and ensuring continued growth, not only within Canada but around the world.

Demographics define future growth

In 2005, an RBC economics report entitled “The Diversity Advantage” presented a strong business case for ensuring economic prosperity by fully leveraging the talents and potential of a diverse workforce, particularly women, aging baby boomers, Aboriginals, visible minorities and, importantly, newcomers to Canada.

Canada’s ethno-cultural composition has been shaped over time by different waves of immigration. Canada now welcomes 220,000 to 260,000 new immigrants annually. Many of these individuals are highly trained but end up working in jobs that do not leverage their skills. With the projected wave of retiring baby boomers and Canada’s low birth rate, immigration represents an increasingly important source of economic growth.

The 2005 report estimated that not employing new immigrants to their full potential cost the Canadian economy $13 billion. That is equivalent to gaining 400,000 more workers, just by leveraging the existing talent.

Statistics Canada estimates that in 2017, when Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, 23 per cent of the nation’s population will be comprised of members of a visible minority. Businesses need a skilled workforce to remain competitive and newcomers have the education and experience to contribute to success.

Creating an inclusive environment

Having a workforce that fully reflects the clients and communities a business serves is a basic premise of diversity. At RBC, nearly one-third of senior management (vice-presidents and above) are women, and nine per cent are visible minorities. Approximately half of all managers are women, and RBC has set ambitious goals to continue to increase the representation of both women and visible minorities in senior management and to develop the talent pipeline.

Success on the diversity front, however, goes beyond simply having a strong representation of women and visible minorities. True benefits are derived from fully leveraging the strengths, talents and differences of the workforce by eliminating barriers and developing human potential in a fully inclusive environment.

RBC strives to build and sustain an inclusive work environment in many ways. For example, it was a founding sponsor of Career Bridge, which provides a four-month Canadian internship to foreign-trained professionals to help them integrate into the Canadian workforce.

One of RBC’s corporate values is “diversity for growth and innovation.” This recognizes the importance RBC places on growing as individuals and as an organization by respecting and leveraging employees’ similarities and differences. This is an integral component to RBC’s bottom-line success.

However, any business initiative needs full support of the senior executive to be successful. The RBC Diversity Leadership Council was established in 2001 and is comprised of senior leaders across all groups and is chaired by RBC president and CEO, Gordon Nixon.

The council meets regularly to set strategy and review progress on diversity goals for each group, and each business leader is accountable for his or her results.

Innovation through workforce diversity

Effective diversity strategies are critical to RBC’s bottom-line success. Having a culturally diverse workforce and understanding their needs is an effective way to better understand the needs of the bank’s increasingly diverse client base and ultimately better serve clients.

For human resources, supporting business growth translates into having innovative talent management practices that identify potential, develop capabilities and enhance the performance and success of employees across the diverse population.

Zabeen Hirji is senior vice-president of HR at RBC.

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