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Career Advancement in Corporate Canada: A Focus on Visible Minorities

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Gordon Nixon
President & Chief Executive Officer
Royal Bank of Canada
Catalyst Research Results Media Event

June 28, 2007
Toronto, Ontario

Thank you and good morning everyone. It's a real pleasure for me to be here.

Some of you might recall that Zabeen spoke at an event back in February when Catalyst and Ryerson released the preliminary findings of this research project. Zabeen, you were right on the money when you predicted that the report would have important implications for visible minorities, as well as for businesses right across Canada.

In my mind, this impressive piece of research completes a compelling body of evidence that we cannot afford to ignore: corporate Canada must step up to the plate in order to help advance and develop visible minorities. It's key to our country's prosperity.

Before I address some of the recommendations outlined in the report, I'd like to provide some context on why this is a critical issue.

In a recent speech to the St. John's Board of Trade, Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge made a strong case that Canada should concentrate on increasing productivity, so that we can have sustainable economic growth and rising standards of living in the future.

I could not agree more. If Canadians want an excellent standard of living -- and of course we all do -- we must become one of the world's most competitive nations to pay for it.

And one important way we can do that is to ensure we develop and support a rich and diverse workforce -- a workforce that reflects the makeup of our towns and cities. This isn't just a social imperative, but a business opportunity as well.

It's equally important that we leverage the talents and skills of the people who are already in our workforces. People are the most important asset of any company or organization. And it's simply bad business not to maximize the return on our most important assets.

I would not be exaggerating to say that leveraging the diversity of our current workforce is critical to the success of each of our businesses, and by extension, to the success of our cities, provinces and country.

Let me add one more fact. Canada's workforce is aging and our birth rate has hit a record-low. We are facing a serious situation. If we do nothing, our labour force will stop growing in about 10 years. Clearly, increased immigration will help us fill the pipeline and fuel economic growth. In fact, one of the recommendations coming from an RBC diversity study was to gradually increase immigration rates to the 300 to 400,000 range per year from the current rate of about 260,000. But just as clearly, we must also optimize the talents of our existing workforce and that is what this study is about.

In 2005, I asked our Economics department to put a dollar figure on what it actually cost the Canadian economy when employers fail to realize the potential of immigrants as well as other under-utilized groups such as women and seniors.
While today's Catalyst report focuses on visible minorities who are already in the workforce, the RBC report focused primarily on newcomers to Canada, the majority of whom are visible minorities in the workforce. We found that if all new Canadians were fully employed, at their level of education and experience, earning equal pay to someone born in Canada, personal income would increase by $13 billion a year. While it may be impossible to eliminate this gap - it does highlight the magnitude of the opportunity.

If we could fully leverage the talent sitting in our own backyard, it would represent the equivalent of 400,000 more workers.

So, let me quickly connect the dots:

  • We're not fully leveraging the skills of our current workforce. There are significant financial and human costs to not doing so.
  • Today, we've got one more piece of research to add to the mix: we've now heard directly from our visible minority employees that they can contribute much more to our productivity challenge if we give them an equal opportunity.
  • And finally, Canada is facing a serious demographic dilemma.

Today's report contains six important action steps. I would like to go on the record, saying that I support every one of them.

I should mention a couple things about the study. It's important to know that this survey incorporates feedback from non-visible minorities in the workplace. In addition, the findings and related recommendations are meaningful for all employees in the workplace and will enable all of us to be more successful. As well, you'll see that while the recommendations are very broad, they can be customized to apply to particular organizational cultures.

Now, here are the action steps.

One, assess your environment. Business needs to get better at understanding the challenges and aspirations of visible minority employees. This means having a greater focus on learning and sharing, soliciting feedback, re-visiting your talent management practices, and influencing the right organizational policies.

Two, integrate diversity as a strategic priority. Organizations need to strengthen the diversity business case, tailoring the case to their overall strategic plan and then establishing a comprehensive communications approach.

The third recommendation is to make sure that top management is committed to diversity. And I'm not just talking about the CEO here, although that is critical as well.

Senior executives and employees throughout your organization should be designated to champion diversity initiatives. And remember to make sure that your employees know about your commitment and efforts.

Fourth, implement talent management practices and career development approaches that are equitable and transparent. Businesses need to clearly communicate performance evaluation criteria, systematically identify and develop top talent, and leverage the diverse skills of our highly capable workforces.

The fifth recommendation is to develop a robust accountability framework around diversity. This one sounds like it came from a bank or a chartered accountant, but it's true that what gets measured gets improved. Business must effectively track and monitor recruitment, promotion, succession and turnover from a diversity vantage point. It's imperative to report back on progress to all employees.

The sixth and final recommendation is that organizations should provide internal mechanisms that support their diversity efforts. Businesses must do more to develop, facilitate and advocate programs so that visible minority employees can readily adapt to organizational cultures. For example, we need mentoring programs that help visible minority employees gain valuable insights, and forums where they can gain exposure to senior executives. And we need visible minority employees to take greater advantage of these opportunities so that they have more power over their own career development.

I am confident that these action steps will help businesses and organizations turbo-charge the talents of their workforce - and in effect all members of their workforce. They will help organizations walk the talk, and help prove that we are not just paying lip service to diversity, but taking tangible, credible steps to make a real difference.

It is important that large companies, small companies, government and the non-profit sector listen to and learn from the voices of the employees of corporate Canada, because their experiences are shared by your employees as well.

Now in case you think that I'm just making this challenge to other companies, I am also making it to my own colleagues at RBC. Some of the survey's respondents were from RBC, and I can tell you that we intend to listen and respond to what they've told us.

And we have three employees here today. After our formal presentations, they are prepared to tell you about their personal journeys at RBC. I am proud that they chose RBC as their employer and I'd like to thank…

  • Chinyere Eni,
  • Natasha Kassim and
  • John Man for being with us today.

And now, I'll turn it back over to Zabeen so that we can take your questions.

Thank you.