Diversity’s competitive advantage

RBC roundtable brings together diversity experts to share experiences, best practices

February 13, 2018
by Michael Power

The panel from left: moderator Tim Morton, Prompta Inc.; Gabby Zuniga, EY; Kiruba Sankar, RBC Bank; Kimberley Messer of IBM; Madeleine Baker, TELUS; Elizabeth Auceda, Sodexo. Image courtesy of The Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

RBC held a panel discussion on Feb. 1 entitled The Competitive Advantage of a Diverse and Inclusive Culture for Modern Business. The panel was part of a Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC) Thought Leadership Series.

The roundtable brought together five experts in the field of diversity, with Tim Morton, managing partner and founder of the consultancy Prompta Inc., moderated the event. At the outset of the discussion, Morton stressed that, to be effective, diversity must permeate all aspects of a business. As well, while Canada has a reputation for diversity and inclusion, there is still much that can be done to foster those values.

“It’s more than HR and it’s more than procurement on the supplier diversity side,” he said. “It’s about this holistic view that looks internally at your workforce, at your workplace, and it looks externally at how you’re working with suppliers, what you’re doing with communities, what you’re doing with customers.”

Diversity and inclusion also provide benefits for organizations that embrace those values, he said. Modern companies allow its employees to bring their entire identities to work, without the expectation that those employees check their true selves at the door. What’s more, Millennial employees desire this type of environment, Morton noted.

Kimberley Messer of IBM noted that her company, which was founded about 100 years, now boasts about 400,000 employees operating in just about every country in the world. That history has meant the company has learned a lot along the way. “We’ve had to transform not only from a technological perspective to stay relevant, but also we’ve had to transform from a values and culture perspective,” Messer said. “That has given us an incredible foundation to stand on.”

Diversity isn’t just about what’s happening within a company, she said, but also what an organization does outside the walls of an organization.

For RBC, diversity is part of the company’s purpose, value and vision, said panelist Kiruba Sankar, the bank’s director-CSR, global procurement. One of RBC’s core values is diversity and inclusion, he stressed. Within its vision is to be one of the most inclusive companies putting diversity into action to help employees, clients and communities.

EY has been on the diversity journey for over 30 years in Canada, said Gabby Zuniga, inclusiveness and flexibility leader, EY. The company’s purpose is to build a better working world, she said, and diversity is embedded within all of the company’s business processes. “Internally, we’re looking at the whole self that people bring,” she said. “Externally, through our supplier diversity program, through the ties and through the connections we make with our community, with the organizations that we support, we ensure that we’re also embedding it in those processes.”

Diversity is also part of RBC’s DNA, Sankar said. Internally, the bank empowers employees to move forward, and that focus on the employee is key to the inclusive culture it fosters. “Inclusion is giving the opportunity for people to open up and talk about various things,” he said.

Fellow panelist Elizabeth Auceda, supplier diversity manager at Sodexo, said that her company had been working hard to foster diversity and inclusion. However, the process is never complete and Sodexo always looks to improve. The process starts at the company’s headquarters in France and across the 80 countries in which the company does business. “We’re definitely working each and every day to improve,” Auceda told the audience.

While there have been challenges along the way, TELUS has also seen plenty of success in its diversity journey, said Madeleine Baker, the company’s strategy & team leader, procurement strategy and innovation. It’s important to have the right communication and connections in place. “Everyone’s trying to achieve the same goal, but sometimes even within the organization—even between procurement and our employee resource groups—we have to be having the right conversations to know that we’re actually trying to do the same thing,” she said.

One of TELUS’s four strategic pillars involves setting the tone from the top, Baker said. Procurement is also trying to build its connections. While working in the US, Baker observed companies devote a certain amount of spend towards accredited diverse suppliers. “So I’ve really seen the art of the possible,” she said. As well, TELUS has re-written its supplier code of conduct to include supplier diversity and the company also supports and partners with CAMSC and other supplier diversity organizations.