Canada’s largest employer, RBC Royal Bank, sees diversity and inclusion as a business imperative. Why? Kirk Dudtschak, Executive Vice President, Personal & Commercial Banking, RBC Royal Bank, explained why in a keynote speech at the 8th Annual Conference for the Academy of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Ryerson University. The following are excerpts from his speech:
Click here to watch the video of Mr. Dudtschak’s remarks.
I want to talk to you about how we think about newcomers and diversity as an organization. We have a saying: “Having diversity is interesting, doing something with it is powerful.” And that’s why I referenced earlier our value of diversity and inclusion for growth and innovation. It is about innovation, it is about growth for your business, that diversity creates. It is our core value, it is integrated into everything we do, we’ve been working hard at it for many years. I want to share with you more about the “what” and the “how” behind our values as we think about learnings for our Canadian-owned businesses.
Firstly, the client perspective. Given the population and the demographics, newcomers and immigrant entrepreneurs are a critical market for us as a business. That goes without saying.
When someone comes to this country, it is one of the most traumatic and formative life events in that individual’s experience. Being there when people need you the most can be one of the most important foundational activities in building a long-term, lasting relationship. Getting that right is important.
Over the years, we’ve built up a team of individuals – employees – that speak over 200 languages. So you need to be able to speak the language and you need to be able to relate to the culture. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s also about being relevant in terms of the service and the advice that you offer, and continuing to raise the bar to make sure that you understand and that you’re competitive.
“You need to be able to speak the language and you need to be able to relate to the culture. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s also about being relevant in terms of the service and the advice that you offer.”
One of the most challenging things as a newcomer is to get access to credit. Think about getting a car loan or a mortgage, or equally challenging, think about getting a credit card. The learning here may sound pretty basic, but it’s profound, and I think it’s an example that many of us can use as businesses. Lending money to somebody for a credit card without a permanent job – maybe precarious work, part-time work, without a permanent job or any credit history whatsoever, how do you do that when you’re a bank? Banks have struggled to issue credit cards, car loans, and mortgages to newcomers.
But if you look beyond that, and if you take many of your own individual circumstances, or you take my parents’ example. I think of my parents, and how on the one hand they had anticipation about this country and on the other hand they had huge fear that they couldn’t succeed. A credit loss for newcomers without permanent jobs or without credit history, who get a credit card, is very low, we found. And why that is, is because the last thing you want to do in a new country is put your credit history at risk. Because you can’t get a cell phone, you can’t pay utilities, you can’t live.
If you take a different perspective and a different view about the motivation of the newcomer, or your business practices, it opens up new possibilities.
So now a newcomer in this country within that first year, can get a credit card without credit history or job security, with a limit of up to $2,000. Within the first two to three years, that individual, with good history, can get a car loan. And within five years, those individuals can qualify for mortgages if they’ve saved enough money and have enough equity to put into that home. All founded on the premise that it’s a new beginning and individuals are going to work tirelessly to create a life for themselves and for their family and make success. And not put at risk that fundamental opportunity to be in this country and establish that credit history.
“It’s a new beginning and individuals are going to work tirelessly to create a life for themselves and for their family and make success.”
We continue to learn through examples like this, how we can build products and services for our newcomer clients.
I want to talk about suppliers. Like Ryerson and like other organizations, one of our priorities is to make sure our supplier set is also diverse. Ultimately to make sure we’re accessing the best services from the best organizations over time. And we’ve been involved with organization like WBE and CAMSC and others. What we’ve found and stumbled across was that we had many suppliers struggling to compete effectively in the procurement process. So we created a supplier diversity mentorship program, that pairs procurement category experts with newcomer entrepreneurs to mentor them on best practices, insights, and help them to better compete in the procurement process. And we’ve had success from that.
The third learning area I want to talk about is our learning from a talent management and employee perspective. We could talk all day about this. Building a diverse workforce that mirrors the markets and the clients that you serve is the first part. But building that inclusive workforce, and leveraging that workforce for innovation and growth is the ultimate. And we are on a path to doing so. We’ve had success, we’ve been named one of the top employers and workplaces in Canada, and we’re proud of the Best Diversity Employer award, and awards we’ve won in the past.
But one of the things we continue to find is creating that inclusive environment is harder than one thinks. Creating that inclusive environment goes much beyond recruitment and promotion policies, it’s about culture, it’s about awareness. Not just about newcomers, but about all employees. And one of the things that we brought in under Zabeen Hirji, our head of Human Resources, was thought leader Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, from Harvard University, who has done a tremendous amount of research on unconscious biases. And how unconscious biases hold human beings back in general. It’s not one-sided – it’s human beings in general.
Last year, Dr. Banaji held sessions with over 300 RBC leaders. More than 1,700 employees after that have benefited from some of the discussions and tools that have emanated out of Dr. Banaji’s work and dialogue with us. In 2016, we have a priority to take this conversation of unconscious bias to all of our employees across the organization.
Back to the theme of entrepreneurship. I want to share some perspective that I’ve observed about key success factors for immigrant entrepreneurs.
Angel investors and venture capitalists and access to capital – for entrepreneurs in general – is an issue, but I don’t believe it is the key success factor. There are common threads in these individuals that have made them so successful.
There’s a newcomer or immigrant entrepreneur who you may know of, Alice Chung. Alive Health Centres is a very successful Canadian business. Alice is an entrepreneur who started with one wellness boutique back in 1983. A business that happened accidentally, or she says “incidentally,” because she couldn’t find work in her own field. We heard that from Salima Virani earlier – the ability to pivot or the ability to survive. Salima used the word “survive.” Alice couldn’t find work in her field, so she set up a wellness boutique in 1983. Over two decades, she’s built Alive into a successful chain of 29 stores across the country, and in June last year, she became the first recipient of the Top 25 Canadian Immigrant – RBC Entrepreneur Award. Tremendous success.
When we talk to Alice about what brought her to this country, and what made her successful, Alice quickly goes to – and you see in Alice – her tenacity and work ethic. It’s one of the first things that Alice will talk about, is that determination and that need to survive, as what has allowed her to get to where she is. It’s another reason that reinforces why newcomers, and newcomer entrepreneurs, are so critical to the success of this country.
All entrepreneurs should have a business plan. Back to being new to a country, and that need to survive and find ways to be successful, doing it with a plan from a business perspective and a personal perspective is critical. But it’s not a plan that is an immovable object, it’s a plan to direct your energies to so you can learn, and then adapt, and then adjust, and pivot, as Salima talked about. It is important to have a blueprint for success and then be able to rewrite that blueprint as you learn and as you grow.
“Building a support network is critical … that support network of friends, of mentors, of sponsors, of advisors, who are different than you, who have access to information and advice that you can leverage to learn and strengthen your business.”
The last thought I’d like to share from Alice’s perspective around integration is that newcomer entrepreneurs do and will need many things to grow their business, and building a support network is critical. A support network that is beyond our cultural backgrounds or beyond what we’re comfortable with. It is that unconscious bias that might very easily cause us to hang out in the German community or the Indian community. But it is building that support network of friends, of mentors, of sponsors, of advisors, who are different than you, who have access to information and advice that you can leverage to learn and strengthen your business. Industry associations are just one way to tap into that advice and expertise, and build those friendships, and find those entrepreneurs. Surrounding ourselves with those industry experts is key to our success.
As Executive Vice President, Kirk Dudtschak leads RBC’s eight personal and business regions in Canada and its Caribbean Banking business. He is also President & CEO of Royal Mutual Funds Inc., a member of the Greater Toronto United Way and past board member of the Toronto Regional Immigrant Employment Council.