Moving Past Diversity: RBC’s Journey to Rid its Upper Ranks of ‘Unconscious Bias’

Zabeen Hirji talks about how RBC is teaching its leaders to overcome unconscious bias; how it’s fostering diversity through processes versus organic evolution and how it reconciles those processes with regulatory requirements.

By Dan Ovsey, Financial Post

Diversity is one of those buzz words often tossed around in the corporate world by organizations with an interest in presenting themselves as progressive. Yet, in many cases talk of diversity is just that — talk. RBC may be the exception to the rule.

Current CEO Gord Nixon — who will be retiring later this year — has made diversity of gender, culture, age and professional experience a priority for the bank, believing it to be good for business. If RBC’s track record is any indication, he’s right.

The bank has generated $58-billion in total profit during Mr. Nixon’s 12-year tenure and saw its share price soar 164%. For its efforts, RBC has been recognized by various advocacy groups as an organization that fosters a diverse work environment and one that breaks down some of the traditional barriers to advancement.

But now the organization is moving past diversity, toward what its chief human resources officer, Zabeen Hirji, describes as “inclusion” — putting diversity to work in the executive ranks by tackling challenges such as unconscious bias and by getting out into the open those tough-to-tackle issues that push the boundaries of politically correct discourse.

Ms. Hirji recently spoke with FP’s Dan Ovsey about how the bank is teaching its leaders to overcome unconscious bias; how it’s fostering diversity through processes versus organic evolution and how it reconciles those processes with regulatory requirements. Following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

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For more read Outsmarting our Brains: A Report by RBC and Ernst and Young 

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