The diversity advantage: Building bridges with women and aboriginal peoples

Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Women's Network Luncheon
International Finance Corporation, The World Bank
Washington, DC, USA

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Amanda, thank you for the warm introduction…I can only imagine what you'll do for an encore at the session later this afternoon! As most, if not all of you know, Amanda and June McCabe co-authored Woman2Woman, a "book that shows women how to analyze working styles, goals and values. Being honest about what they are good at, having discovered what drives them and armed with the practical tools in this book, all women can, as New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark says in her preface, see what's possible with will, desire, and a belief in yourself."

I witnessed this will, desire and belief in oneself during the Global Banking Alliance (GBA) for Women meeting this morning. We had lively discussions about global financial markets, the women's development bank etc. I met some very impressive women, with equally impressive credentials. It was a small group in size but a big group in will, desire and beliefs. Prime Minister Clark got it right, as did Amanda and June. I'm pleased several women from this meeting are in the room right now, including our luncheon host Dorothy Berry, Georgina Baker and other members of the IFC team, as well as two of my RBC colleagues - Kristina Depencier, RBC Royal Bank's recently appointed director of women's markets and Verna Gessaman, senior manager, community and government relations for RBC Centura.

It's a great pleasure to join you today and to visit Washington again. I'm also delighted to share the speaking stage with the likes of Bernadette Moffat and Sonja Sebotsa. Yes, we're celebrating International Women's Day around the world, although some countries and cities got a head start on the weekend. The streets of Toronto welcomed close to two thousand marchers on Saturday (March 5). This year's theme was "No to Violence, No War. Yes to Justice, Equality for All." In Trinidad and Tobago the theme is "Gender equality beyond 2005: building a more secure future." In Jamaica, the theme is "Women's Rights are Human Rights." And right here on Pennsylvania Avenue - at events throughout the day, the focus is on gender equity. No matter what the setting, "International Women's Day marks a celebration of the economic, social, cultural and political achievements for women." IWD is an "international celebration of education and empowerment."

I've been asked to talk about RBC Financial Group's leadership in career advancement for women, aboriginal banking, as well as the role of senior executives in supporting these initiatives. I'll also mention an amazing story from Tanzania; so let's get started with what I'm pegging the 10-minute diversity advantage.

The idea that people of various backgrounds can build a nation, build a community - or build an organization like ours at RBC - based on mutual respect and inclusion - is very powerful. Diversity is simply good business - smart business. Our commitment to diversity is guided by the continually changing expectations of our employees, customers and communities. It's no accident that diversity for growth and innovation is one of our core values.

We recognize that providing an equitable workplace where people understand and respect diversity is key to attracting, retaining and engaging employees and to effectively serving our clients. Employment equity practices, procedures/accountabilities and special projects are integrated into our business strategies and action plans. Women and aboriginal peoples are very much part of our diversity advantage.

In today's competitive workplace, diversity plays a significant role in being considered the employer of choice - in attracting top talent. Currently, women fill 32% of our executive positions, while 55% of our women employees occupy management positions.

In 2002/2003, the RBC Diversity Leadership Council focused on the development of goals above the workforce availability level to increase the representation of women at senior levels of the organization. The annual Talent Planning and Review process, undertaken by our businesses, continues to ensure that women and designated groups are included and have equitable access to developmental opportunities. Coaching and mentoring supplements learning and career planning.

In addition, we are members of Catalyst (a "leading research and advisory organization working with businesses and the professions to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women at work"), the Conference Board Effective Work Environments Research Centre and The Canadian Work/Life and Well-Being Network… RBC is also a founding member and sponsor of Women in Capital Markets, a volunteer organization that promotes the entry, development, advancement and networking of women. Please check out our web site for more information about women and careers: http://www.rbc.com/uniquecareers/diversity/ee_report.html.

Aboriginal peoples are a key component of our diversity advantage. The economics of ensuring a better focus on aboriginal Canadians should not and must not be lost in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. The aboriginal unemployment rate in Canada is double the Canadian average. Average earnings are only two-thirds the non-aboriginal average. Dependency on social welfare is very high. These factors are linked to chronic health and social problems in many aboriginal communities. If high numbers of working-age aboriginal people fail to get jobs, the rapid increase in the aboriginal population by 2010 will extract a substantial charge on the public purse. Aboriginal women represent a good portion of the challenge and the opportunity.

I can tell you that RBC has developed complete financial services for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, as well as for small, medium and large sized aboriginal businesses and organizations. We're also focused on recruitment, training and individual/community support initiatives. We're involved in the Aboriginal Human Resource Development Council of Canada (AHRDCC), a council that fosters partnerships among industry, government, and aboriginal peoples - for which I'm co-chair of the Champions. And we're involved in Aboriginal Business Canada, as it plays a major role in creating and supporting aboriginal-owned/operated businesses. The National Aboriginal Economic Development Board (NAEDB), which oversees Aboriginal Business Canada, continues to make a tremendous contribution to the growth of aboriginal business opportunities and the workforce. I'm proud to serve as vice-chair, because RBC wants to push the envelope on "re-building the aboriginal economy" and corporate/aboriginal relations. Once again, please follow the link at http://www.rbcroyalbank.com/aboriginal/ if you're interested in learning more about our story.

Senior management leadership is visibly evident at various levels. The Diversity Leadership Council, mentioned earlier, is comprised of executive champions from all the businesses and functions and is chaired by Gord Nixon, our President and CEO. A number of senior management officers (including yours truly) are champions for specific designated groups.

Embracing diversity supports the cultivation of leaders, leadership, innovation and growth. The capacity and freedom to think differently and openly, to see beyond biases and stereotypes, becomes part of our competitive advantage.

In closing, I want to share this story with you. "Equal Opportunities for all Trust Fund Chairperson Madame Anna Mkapa, Tanzania's First Lady, called upon women in the country to register in the permanent voters' register in large numbers and contest for posts in the forthcoming general election if they want to improve their lot. The First Lady said women had the numerical advantage that they could use to improve their bargaining power in the government if they put it to good use by voting for visionary leaders." At a women's trade-fair on March 4, she said: "women should not just be content with the peripheral positions usually reserved for them in parliament and other decision-making bodies. Instead, they should go for some of those positions to change the perception that women were incapable of leading the country…Whether you like it or not, the development of any country is impossible to achieve without women's participation." The first Lady knows what she's talking about…

In closing, has RBC done enough for and with women in our organization and aboriginal peoples? The answer is no. That's why it's important to maintain focus on diversity over the long term. None of us can afford to just focus on what has always worked and on what we've always done. Today, a company - an organization - simply cannot survive without the diversity advantage. There's much work to be done for women, for aboriginal peoples…and other groups as well. What we're doing is documented in our 2004 Corporate Responsibility Report. It can be found at: http://www.rbc.com/community/rbc_community/
community_reports/index.html
. I also brought a few copies with me…

I encourage you to share stories, build bridges, forge new partnerships and think out loud. Much like the Global Banking Alliance (GBA) for Women, consider yourselves an "incubator of ideas and promising practices" for good business and the diversity advantage. We must continue to learn, network and grow…to lead globally!

Thank you.