A Global Leader in Diversity & Inclusion: RBC’s Focus on Equality is More Than Sound Business Strategy — It’s the Right Thing to Do

Brittney Mayer • July 10, 2017

In a Nutshell: While the word diversity is a popular buzzword, espeically in industries like finance and technology, some companies are doing more than paying lip service to the term. RBC is helping to lead the charge for diversity and inclusion within the financial services industry. RBC’s Diversity Blueprint 2020 establishes 20 real, actionable commitments to promoting diversity and inclusion throughout the organization, with a focus on its three foundational pillars of talent, clients, and communities. By maintaining open communication and tracking both qualitative and quantitative progress, RBC is working steadily to honor its commitments as it strives to reach a better — and more diverse — place by 2020.

Despite the inherent diversity of humanity, many people are drawn to those who are most similar to themselves. In some ways, this can be beneficial; we often get along best with those who share our interests. On the other hand, this inclination toward “same” can have its downfalls, including a sharp lack of diversity within many businesses and organizations.

In particular, areas like technology and finance have long been considered the realm of the white male, with little room for anyone failing to meet the “same” criteria. For instance, a 2016 survey of 381 financial services organizations found that only 20% of board members and 16% of executive committee members were women — and the majority of those leadership positions were limited to human resources and/or marketing roles.

However, within the sea of stagnant, homogeneous organizations, one stands out as a leader in the drive toward a diverse and inclusive industry: RBC, the Royal Bank of Canada. More than a token effort to comply with federal regulations, RBC has spent decades developing a global, organization-wide mission to promote diversity and inclusion throughout the company.

Norma Tombari is the Senior Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion for RBC.

“As an organization, we first started these efforts in the late 1970s. Then the Canadian Employment Equity Act came to be in 1986, and that really enabled a solid foundation,” described Norma Tombari, the Senior Director of Global Diversity & Inclusion. “Since then, through the 2000s and beyond, we’ve really been focused on the whole dimension of diversity and inclusion. The work that we do definitely goes beyond compliance or meeting regulatory commitments.”

In fact, one of the company’s five core values focuses on diversity and inclusion, and it is a value that encompasses every level of the company. From the CEO-led Diversity Leadership Council all the way down to the employee volunteers, each person at RBC supports the company’s purpose to help clients thrive and communities to prosper and is guided by its values.

“I think one of the reasons we have been successful with our efforts, and continue to firmly believe in the benefits of diversity and inclusion, is because of our people,” said Norma. “There is not only a great deal of visibility from the top, but we have a very sophisticated and large network of excellent leaders and engaged employees, people who see the connection to our business strategy as well as our corporate citizenship strategy.”

RBC believes that diversity creates a stronger workforce and encourages growth, enabling greater success in a global marketplace. But while the diversity and inclusion goals set out by RBC’s Diversity Leadership Council and other partner committees contribute to the bank’s business strategy, good business isn’t the only factor driving inclusion at RBC.

The team at RBC see commitment to diversity and inclusion as more than the right business strategy, it’s simply the right thing to do.

“We like to say that, for us, diversity and inclusion is not only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do,” explained Norma. “We really see the benefits of inclusion in terms of helping to generate prosperity and innovation. We believe in the power of engaged people, and when you bring together people with different backgrounds and experiences in common purpose, there’s just no stopping them.”

The 3 Foundational Pillars at the Heart of RBC’s Efforts

While it’s all fine and good to mouth words about diversity, it’s another thing entirely to put forth a solid — and actionable — plan toward encouraging and engaging people with that effort. As a solid foundation, RBC created its Diversity & Inclusion Blueprint, which outlines the company’s priorities and objectives. The latest Blueprint was revised and released in 2016, and it lays out the vision and goals of the organization’s diversity and inclusion priorities through 2020.

“The diversity and inclusion space is actually a space where people can get very excited and do many things. So, as an organization with a great deal of experience, we wanted to ensure a collective focus,” said Norma. “We wanted to ensure there were clearly articulated priorities, but at the same time, that we gave our businesses and geographies some flexibility to also address the priorities that resonate the best for them.”

With each iteration to the Diversity Blueprint, commitments and goals are updated and altered to best reflect the current and future priorities of the organization. What doesn’t change, however, are the three key pillars at the heart of the company’s diversity and inclusion strategy.

“After extensive research, both internally and externally, we identified three key pillars. It’s all about ensuring we have a focus on our talent, on our clients, and on our communities,” said Norma. “And these three pillars are quite pivotal for us because they are so interconnected.”

1. Talent

Although often the single focus of a company’s diversity plans, the talent pillar is but one of three at RBC, one considered to be inextricably tied to the other two. The team at RBC knows that the best way to properly service and empathize with a diverse client base is to have a workforce that mirrors your marketplace.

“We tend to say, ‘To serve the market, we have to hire the market,'” Norma described. “And so the talent piece and the client piece go hand in hand. For example, if you look at your leadership base — whether it is your employees or your clients or members of the community, they want to see people like themselves reflected in that executive level, at the senior management level, at the board level.”

RBC is committed to encouraging and supporting skilled and promising talent from diverse groups, giving them the ability to develop key leadership skills and advance within the company. The bank has several programs enabling employees to learn from and interact with members of leadership, including a variety of mentoring opportunities.

“We have a program we call Diversity Dialogues, which brings together leaders and many diverse employees from various groups,” said Norma. “This program is beneficial for both sides, as not only is our talent receiving great development and mentoring, but the senior partner is actually learning more about that diverse group — what the issues are and some of the opportunities. It’s actually been a program that has been replicated by may different organizations, as a safe way to learn.”

2. Clients

Interconnected with its goal of “hiring the marketplace” and maintaining a diverse talent base, RBC works to promote diversity its diverse clients through a number of other goals. This includes enhancing programs and services for women, including female entrepreneurs, as well as engaging in cultural market initiatives and partner programs.

RBC also has a long history of supporting both the newcomers to Canada and its Aboriginal/Indigenous peoples. The organization evolves and promotes financial solutions tailored to the needs of newcomers, while maintaining a strong dedication to initiatives that build community capability and economic self-sufficiency for Indigenous peoples.

The bank has also taken its diversity and inclusion work to a scientific level, making headlines with its exploration of the concept of unconscious bias, which is the inherent preference for “same” we all unknowingly carry. Unique among many large institutions, RBC has set forth goals for addressing unconscious bias within its own processes and with employees.

“One of the areas that has distinguished us in recent years is the work we’ve done around addressing unconscious bias, which is essentially fundamental to some of the issues we face dealing with diversity and inclusion,” Norma explained. “For instance, we’ve made a number of tools, resources, and checklists available to our recruiters, staffing managers, and leaders, and they are continuously challenging themselves to ensure biases are not affecting the decision-making process when assessing or recruiting talent or working with clients.”

3. Communities

A natural extension of both the talent and client pillars, the third pillar is dedicated to the communities in which RBC lives and operates. As a major financial institution, RBC has the ability to make large impacts on its communities — and the company chooses to do so in ways that expand its core diversity and inclusion value.

“On the community side, we talk about inclusive prosperity, which is a neat term because it’s about so much more than just providing monetary donations to the diverse groups we support,” said Norma. “We really feel it’s important to open up opportunities, to be inclusive of different opportunities for the various members and segments of our communities, and to do so proactively. We want to partner with our communities in very real, very solid ways.”

One way RBC helps support its communities is through a variety of programs, partnerships, and resources dedicated to promoting financial literacy and investment education. The bank knows the importance of proper money management skills and the impact they can have on a person’s overall success. RBC also knows the importance of engaging with the community, so another key aspect of its programs is its employee volunteers.

“We have an incredible network of Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs, that actually help further some of these practices and learning at the grassroots levels,” Norma described. “For instance, many employees got involved with helping with the integration of Syrian refugees or other newcomers to Canada, and those who work with LGBT+ youth who may have been bullied. It’s all very much interconnected.”

An Organization-Wide Dedication to Meeting Diversity & Inclusion Commitments

In addition to laying out the company’s three pillars of diversity and inclusion, RBC’s Diversity Blueprint also sets the bank’s specific goals over the five-year period. For each of the three pillars, the organization established a set of commitments, with a total of 20 commitments in the current Diversity Blueprint 2020.

“We identified these commitments after extensive research, including consultation with our businesses, employees, clients, and with various advisory groups,” said Norma. “And the plan has been, and continues to be, to make incremental progress on all of our commitments over these five years, such that we are in a different, better place in 2020.”

While some of RBC’s commitments are qualitative in nature, focused on promoting ideas and encouraging opportunities, other commitments are quantitative, with specific numbers and goals to be reached. Regardless of the specific nature of the commitment, the steps taken and progress made toward reaching each one is monitored, both at the enterprise level and by individual businesses, with the annual Diversity and Inclusion Report and quarterly Diversity Scorecards keeping track of the progress made.

“Our team puts them together by reaching out to all of the diversity councils, as well as by looking at our databases for quantitative information,” Norma explained. “It’s very much a collective effort because our businesses will report back. These are set commitments, so leaders are responsible for sending in the results of their endeavors. It’s open two-way communication that enables us to be able to monitor that process”

In addition to information reported by each council and business, the team responsible for monitoring diversity and inclusion efforts have access to a sophisticated system enabling them to see changes and track progress. They also receive a wealth of information from RBC’s annual employee engagement survey, which collects employee opinions on a range of topics and policies.

“The employee engagement survey helps us assess the inclusiveness of the culture and the environment, and it’s a very important metric,” said Norma. “We’re also able to see changes relative to a diversity and inclusion index from this employee engagement survey, and, at the same time, we’re also able to do an in-depth analysis of the feedback from various diverse groups — whether it’s women, minorities, LGBT+, newcomers — to really get a sense of change.”

Believing in the Power of People

Despite our inherent attraction to those who are most like us, humanity has made it this far by relying on the diverse talents and skills within our populations. Though the goal of embracing our differences and developing a truly inclusive culture is a work in progress, RBC is helping lead the financial services industry ever closer to that goal.

“I’m always so impressed by the goodness of people, and the desire of people to be inclusive, to have positive impacts on their communities — and to just do the right thing,” said Norma. “While we are by no means perfect at RBC, we continue to evolve, to listen to what our clients and our employees and our community partners have to say, and to engage in multi-stakeholder partnerships to address some of the issues. There is a richness in partnering, in challenging the status quo with others and really developing solutions together.”

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

About the Author

Brittney Mayer

Brittney is a Contributing Editor for Digital Brands, Inc., where she uses her extensive research background to develop comprehensive guides and in-depth company profiles for BadCredit.org and CardRates.com. Brittney specializes in translating complex ideas into readable, engaging content for B2C and B2B audiences.