Cultivating an Inclusive Workplace
There was an abundant assortment of fruit trees that lined the backyards of the Southern California neighborhood where I grew up. All of the neighbors allowed each other access to their crops, which made the trees feel like magnets that attracted new friends, brought families together and cultivated a strong community of predominately Black, white and a few Hispanic families. The people that made up our community were as diverse as the fruit trees.
Of all of the amazing people who lived in our neighborhood, my parents were at the top of the list. It wasn’t by chance that I grew up in a relatively multicultural environment, it was by design. My parents were born and raised in the southern town of Timpson, Texas, with a population of just over 1,000 people. Given the segregation and racially charged situations they endured, there was every reason to be bitter but they never revealed an ounce of animosity or ill-will.
Early in their marriage, my parents moved to Southern California in order to provide a better life for themselves and their future family. Throughout the twenty-one years they spent growing our huge family of ten children, my parents cultivated natural diversity immersion experiences for us through the multicultural friendships they had, stories they told, sound advice they gave, and the community they chose for us to live in. As a result, I never felt less than anyone else, that I didn’t have the ability to accomplish whatever I set my mind to, or that my darker skin was a barrier.
It wasn’t until my early twenties that I directly experienced racism and, as a result of my upbringing, it took a few minutes before I realized what was actually taking place. A couple of friends and I were driving from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs and, somewhere in between, we stopped for lunch at a small town restaurant. After waiting for what seemed like a half hour, the waitress finally came to the table to take our order. I selected an item from the menu but the waitress said they were out of it, so I made a couple other choices, which they were out of as well. One of my friends commented that it would be easier to let us know what items were available. In response, the waitress said, “We don’t have anything on the menu for you all.” And she turned and walked away.
There is a strong commitment to ensure company leadership reflects greater inclusivity by increasing the number of people of color in leadership roles across the organization
While that incident at the restaurant may have been the first time I experienced such direct and blatant racism, it sadly was not the last. My own experiences with racism and the experiences I heard and read about from others were the catalyst that sparked my quest for a career change. I developed a keen interest in equity, diversity and inclusion, which intensified during my work on my graduate program capstone project titled: “The Assimilation of Black Professionals in Corporate Culture.”
Less than two years following the completion of the program, I was hired as the program director of diversity and work/life innovations for a major software company. After being with the software company for six years, I was recruited to RBC, where for 16 years I have enjoyed partnering with like-minded colleagues to help open minds and doors at the organization. Like any other organization, RBC has its challenges and has room for improvement. But leaders at the organization are generally receptive to learning and are striving to build a more inclusive culture.
When the recent racial protests started in Minneapolis, RBC Wealth Management’s headquarters market in the U.S., leaders immediately came together to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees. Following the protests, listening sessions were held with over 600 Black employees, to give them space to share their experiences in their daily personal and professional lives.
These listening sessions have become the basis for various measures that RBC plans to implement to help address the systemic racism and unconscious bias within the workplace and in our communities. Among those measures is a commitment from RBC to invest $50 million globally from now to 2025 to create meaningful and transformative pathways to prosperity for 25,000 Black, Native American, and other youth of color; as well as committing 40 percent of all summer internships to be filled by students of color.
In addition to youth, there is a strong commitment to ensure company leadership reflects greater inclusivity by increasing the number of people of color in leadership roles across the organization. There will be an increase in the investment in Ignite, a leadership program focused on driving talent development among employees of color. Lastly, and critical to the goal of developing more inclusive leaders, the existing company-wide Unconscious Bias training will be enhanced, and anti-racism and anti-bias training will be mandatory for all employees.
While all of these measures are great steps toward combatting racism and addressing inequalities, in order to truly make a difference, there must also be accountability. That’s why, to make certain that these commitments are carried out, diversity and inclusion objectives will be included in the performance goals of all people managers at RBC.
I am proud of my organization’s commitment to cultivating a diverse and inclusive workplace. I’m particularly proud of the stance RBC has taken against racism and inequalities. Every step taken is a step toward a workplace that is much closer to the tree-lined, multicultural, and inclusive community I once knew.