Terrence Belford

For Cheryl Tjok-A-Tam, the last five years at the Royal Bank have been what she calls “a remarkable experience.”

Tjok-A-Tam, 39, is a women of colour who came to Canada from her native Jamaica as a child. Through a heady combination of talent and the bank’s broad range of diversity and inclusion programs, she has risen quickly through the ranks and is now head of the program management office at RBC’s national contact centre in Mississauga, Ont.

“One of the best experiences of my career to date was being part of RBC’s diversity dialogue reciprocal mentorship program,” she says. “It gave me a remarkable insight not just into ways to promote diversity and inclusion but also into what it takes to advance to senior positions within the bank.”

Tjok-A-Tam had only been with RBC two years – she was offered a job almost on the spot when bank executives saw her making a presentation for her previous employer – when she became one of the first people tapped for inclusion into the mentoring program. She was paired with Zabeen Hirji, now executive vice-president, human resources.

“Even though I was going on a year’s maternity leave, we still would meet or talk regularly about everything from ways to better ensure diversity and inclusion to things I could learn from her own experiences in certain situations,” Tjok-A-Tam says. “It was so remarkably useful that I even asked to continue for another 12 months after I returned from having my son Noah.”

But diversity and inclusion requires much more than policies, practices and programs, says Norma Tombari, director of global diversity at RBC.

“You need the right leadership and you need to create the right atmosphere, an atmosphere of acceptance for everyone,” she says. “You also need a continuum. It starts with the search process for new workers then continues through the hiring, indoctrination, training and development.

“It has to become an intrinsic part of who we are and what we do.”

RBC’s progress started with workplace equity for women, then expanded to diversity – ensuring its staff reflected the communities they served and the overall fabric of Canada’s shifting mosaic.

Today, again like most major corporations, the first two phases seem solidly in place and now the focus has shifted to inclusion – merging all those different genders, cultures and colours into a single welcoming entity, says Tombari.

RBC’s initiatives to embrace diversity and inclusion started in the late 1970s when the bank made the decision to ensure workplace equity for women. Then in 1986 when the Employment Equity Act was passed, the focus expanded from women to include aboriginals, visible minorities and those with disabilities.

RBC began to actively recruit from among those groups and began to set in place programs to ensure each enjoyed a satisfying career with the bank, she says.

“Today there are just too many programs, initiatives and policies to count,” she says. “Diversity and inclusion are an integral part of everything we do.”

Tombari says Gord Nixon, who became RBC president at the beginning of this decade, deserves enormous credit for his personal dedication to inclusion.

“In 2001 he established the RBC Diversity Leadership Council, which is drawn from senior executives,” she says. “They carry the responsibility for ensuring equity and diversity in the workplace.”

The council was expanded and extended into U.S. operations in the early 2000s as RBC began to acquire companies south of the border. Its leadership role is now felt by all 80,000 employees globally, she says.

Among the banks continuing initiatives are regular workshops and seminars for managers and staff, resources groups made up of aboriginals, women, the disabled, and gays, lesbians and the transgendered. RBC also offers what Tombari calls “a tool kit” of information for use by members of the council and the mentoring program.

The bank has also created a Diversity Blueprint setting its goals through to the end of 2011.

The march towards equity, diversity and inclusion has produced dramatic results, Tombari says. RBC can now say that 39 per cent of its managers are women and 12 per cent represent visible minorities.

“It has certainly made a difference to me as both a person and as a woman of colour,” says Tjok-A-Tam. “Among other things, the mentoring program, for example, taught me the benefits of patience and a long-term view.”

Patience and looking at the long term are necessary virtues when it comes to diversity and inclusion, says Tombari. “We have come an extraordinarily long way in the past 20 years,” she says. “But there are still areas in which we have more to accomplish.”


Reference: Vancouver Sun