Bank president talks to Burlington business about diversity and inclusion – says it’s the smart thing to do.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  September 22, 2011  When asked how many people there were at the Burlington Economic Development Corporation’s Mayors “Connect-Collaborate-Create” luncheon Laura Geisbecht, a BEDC staffer, replied – 377 – when asked how many people the room could hold she replied 377 – and I saw two city hall employees slip in a bit later so we were over what the Fire Marshal would have approved.  It was a sold out crowd – all there to hear Royal Bank president Gord Nixon talk about Diversity and why it is so important to anyone growing a business.

It was a bit of an uphill sell for the president of the most successful bank in Canada – the number of people in the room that would meet the loosest definition of “diverse” was less than ½ of 1%,  – it would have amounted to 1% if the serving staff had been included.  And that pretty much spells out the problem that Burlington faces – people described as culturally diverse just don’t play much of a role in business in Burlington.  Never have – but if this city is to succeed economically – that is going to have to change and Nixon was here to tell the business elite how and why the Royal Bank chose to embrace diversity right across the board.

He said it was certainly the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do and it is at the smart level that Nixon drilled down into the data.

The Mayor thanked the major sponsors: Burlington Hydro, which the city owns, the Burlington Performing Arts Centre – the city is their landlord and provides a decent subsidy for that organization.  Having them as sponsors for this event amounts to moving money from your left pocket to your right pocket – gives a whole new meaning to keeping it all in the family doesn’t it?

The Mayor commented  that Burlington was not as directly affected by the downturn in the economy as other Southwestern Ontario municipalities. “This resilience” he said, “is evident in the creation of 425 new jobs in the first half of this year.  This job creation is a result of 38 new and 15 existing businesses adding staff to their payroll.

The Mayor added that the city’s Strategic Plan that is now out in the community for consultation and feedback has identified  prosperity as an objective and intends to focus on attracting and growing a knowledge-based economy that provides a future for all, and is a community of choice for both employers and family.

The Mayor shared a new program, centered on knowledge-based activities that several of our community partners including – BEDC, Burlington Chamber of Commerce, DeGroote School of Business, and The Centre for Skills Development & Training – are developing in conjunction with his office. The Graduate Internship Program, to be launched in early 2012, will utilize and pool our talented local graduates to work with companies to identify projects and initiatives that will advance their business innovation and growth strategies.  Updates will be made as the program develops.

Gord Nixon, President Royal Bank of Canada - driven to make the bank diverse and inclusive.

Gord Nixon president of the Royal Bank set the context for his remarks on Diversity and Inclusion by explaining that RBC has approximately 18 million clients and 77,000 employees in over 50 countries.  The Canadian workforce is approximately 55,000 people.

We have been in business for a long time, and over the past couple of decades our business mix has diversified significantly and this strategy of diversified businesses is one of our competitive advantages.

The event was part of the Mayor’s Connect, Collaborate, Create which Nixon pointed out what Diversity and Inclusion are all about

Nixon added he is a firm believer in the power of cities to be engines of economic growth in this country.  “Research has shown that there is not one homogenous “national” or “global” economy as we often think of it – but rather a common market of local economies, including urban economies – and that strengthening these local economies is what will drive the overall economic success of our country.

He continued: “But, the process of economic development is not simple. It’s complex and multi-dimensional, and highly dependent on innovative thinkers. It requires individuals who care not only about what this region is today but what it could be tomorrow. It requires long-term vision and planning and it needs leaders from all areas of the community — business, labour, academia, social services, NGO’s and government — leaders who live here, work here and build their businesses here, and people who can actively participate in formulating a shared vision.  It requires a multi-stakeholder approach like the one you have adopted here in Burlington.”

Nixon pointed out that “one in six Canadians live in this vast region around Toronto and it is our country’s most important and our flagship in so many areas – and Burlington is an important part of that success.  This region – and Burlington — is also a model of diversity, inclusion and integration. This has been an unparalleled success in our region. It has brought vitality, culture and economic growth and RBC has benefited from all of that.”

Diversity is part of Burlington's social scene - do we ssee inclusivity in the work force, in senior management positions?

“Diversity and inclusion is something we want to get right. I say this from my perspective as CEO of RBC, certainly, but also from the perspective of a resident of southern Ontario, a community member, a taxpayer and a participant in many of the cultural and charitable activities that take place in this region.”

Nixon went on: “And so while my interests and experiences extend right across the social, economic and political fabric of this region, today I’d like to talk about why diversity matters, its central role in driving productivity, innovation and growth, and how embedding diversity in what we do at RBC is helping us achieve our potential as a company, with our clients and in our communities. And how it is helping our employees achieve their full career potential.”

“I am often asked” said Nixon, “ Why does diversity matter to business and to RBC? Simply put, it makes good business sense.  It’s the smart thing to do.

“Why do I say that?  First, talent comes in both genders and from diverse backgrounds.  Attracting, developing and retaining the best talent is essential to the success of any business.

“Reflecting the clients we serve is also a business imperative.  Let me start with newcomers.  As you know, the demographics in this country are changing and Statistics Canada projects more change will come.

“Our diverse population is both a unique strength for this region and a critical component of our economic success. The growth in visible minorities and new immigrants is dramatic; especially in our large cities.  For the greater Toronto region, visible minorities are projected to be 63% by the year 2031.  With baby boomers retiring, our workforce is shrinking.  Immigration can offset this, but our success depends on attracting skilled immigrants and ensuring they find work that utilizes their expertise, education and experience. We know it’s the right thing to do, but we’re also clear on the business potential.”

Nixon went on to point out that “some newly released numbers are troubling when it comes to relying on immigration to fuel growth.  While our region is the number one destination for immigrants settling in Canada, we have seen a 17% (17,000 people) decrease in the number of immigrants it receives over the last decade due to increased attractiveness of other Canadian regions.”

“We surpass most city regions in integrating large numbers of newcomers, but there remain significant opportunities to help immigrants realize their full potential as a key competitive advantage for the region.”

“Immigrants consistently face both higher unemployment and a greater incidence of underemployment than people Canadian born. Immigrants with a university degree have twice the unemployment rate and earn 40% less than Canadian-born people with a university degree. And, the situation is worsening – more recent cohorts of immigrants are falling further behind.

For a country that prides itself on its diversity, fairness, and our open door policy, this is a surprise. For a country whose demographics promises worker shortages in the decades ahead, this doesn’t make sense. Diversity is one of our competitive advantages.”

“A large portion of the region’s immigrants” Nixon pointed out “come from rapidly developing emerging markets. As more of the world’s economic growth shifts to those markets, immigrants will increasingly be an important asset that differentiates our region from global competitors.

Newcomers enrich our region’s human capital with their international experience, diverse language skills, access to international networks and understanding of global markets. Many developed economies are competing for the same immigrant talent and being a recognized leader in diversity and inclusion can help us better compete.  Studies have shown that Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are among the most attractive places for employers precisely because of our multilingual workforces, our commitment to equal opportunity and high literacy.”

“For business leaders in this region”, said Nixon, “ this is an important means to succeed and contribute to Canada’s future as a player on the global stage. If you aren’t convinced, let me share a few more numbers with you. In 2005, RBC Economics 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. We are leaving economic growth – never mind fuller lives and stronger communities – on the table.”

“Like the underemployment of new immigrants” said Nixon,” the paucity of senior women is troubling.  It can prevent younger women from entering certain professions or finding role models.  A lack of diversity can also impact overall employee engagement, productivity and innovation.  It has been shown that companies with more women senior managers typically have higher total returns than those with fewer women.  Again, we are leaving economic growth on the table – never mind demonstrating a real commitment to the principles of equity and fairness in the workplace.

“Speaking as a business leader, I know that achieving gender equity is key to the success of our company and our country.  Canada cannot succeed in an increasingly global and knowledge-based economy without the full and active participation of women.  Fifty percent of Canadians are women – they obtain the majority of university degrees and influence over 80% of purchasing decisions.  Women also own or manage over 40% of all businesses in Canada.  We simply cannot afford to waste this human resource.”

“Over 60% of our 77,000 employees globally are women”, said Nixon. “ It is abundantly clear to me that it is in our best interest – you could call it “enlightened self-interest” – to create the conditions where women can excel.   This is why we say it is the smart thing to do.”

“At RBC, this means fostering our corporate values of respect and integrity.  This means creating a world where everyone is respected for who they are and what they bring to the table.  It is a fundamental tenet of a civil and just society.  A place where every woman and man can achieve their full potential.  That’s why we also say it’s the right thing to do.  At RBC, we support this objective by implementing workplace programs that enable women to build their confidence, to develop their skills and talents, and to realize their dreams.”

“Over the last 30 years or so”, said Nixon, “RBC has focused on enabling women to achieve leadership roles. Our first woman vice president was appointed in 1979.  Not a particularly great statistic.  We were already a 110-year-old company at the time.  However, today about 38% of our executives in Canada are women, 54% of managers and professionals are women, something we are proud of, but not complacent about.  The work must continue. Women bring unique and valuable perspectives to our social fabric and tangible bottom line results to our businesses.  Our society needs their contributions and the success of women is one of our country’s greatest strengths.”

I believe that corporations must see diversity as not just an add-on or a business opportunity, but a path to excellence, that embedding inclusion  in your culture will help you get the most out of the mix and that the benefits will flow when you get it right.

At RBC, we have learned that when diversity and inclusion are part of decision-making, we are better positioned to connect with our customers and provide more meaningful products and services, driving customer loyalty and an enhanced bottom line in return. Meanwhile, ensuring that each and every promising employee has an opportunity to contribute can pay off exponentially by driving innovation and growth; strengthening our workforce and enhancing our profile with potential recruits—not to mention inspiring other employees to give their best.

Diversity will increasingly be a key driver of economic growth in the future.  It is both the right thing and the smart thing to do and something that we at RBC are passionate about.


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