The necessity of learning more about the Black experience

by David I. McKay – President and Chief Executive Officer, Royal Bank of Canada

As published by David McKay on LinkedIn

Last year marked a global awakening to the systemic racism and deep rooted inequality experienced by Black people and communities around the world.

This sparked many long overdue conversations about racial injustice. Not only about the barriers facing so many Black, Indigenous and People of Colour every day, but how this reality threatens lives and livelihoods.

For too long, government and business leaders have shied away from talking openly about race – myself included.

The same is true about listening and learning. And I believe this has to continue changing.

The events over the last year have made it clear: We have much more work to do – as leaders, individuals, organizations, and as a society – to better understand and take action to address the factors that impede economic and social inclusion and advancement for Black lives.

I’ve heard personal stories from many RBC colleagues across our organization about the toll of racism, intolerance and bias – both in the workplace and in our communities.

In some cases, I heard about overt acts of discrimination – which were shocking to me. But more often, it was stories describing the damaging effects of subtle acts of racism and bias that stuck with me.

The ones about the micro-aggressions and stereotyping that chip away at an individual’s sense of belonging, self-esteem and self-worth. Or the comments and questions that might be well-meaning, but actually communicate negative racial messages and assumptions.

I’ve learned that the ability for many of us to even notice these instances requires better educating ourselves, listening, learning, and reflecting.

And that is why getting together to commemorate Black History Month, and the necessity to learn more about the Black experience, is so important.

I want to thank all of the Black employees at RBC – from summer students to senior leadership – who’ve stood up and shared very personal stories about their lives. What they told us helped inform RBC’s action plan to address systemic racism – which we announced last July – and continues to drive us to examine what we need to do better.

As Canada’s biggest bank and one of the largest globally, what we say and do matters.

We knew we couldn’t move forward without doing everything we possibly can to play a role in enabling economic mobility and social prosperity for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour in our communities.

I’m proud of our bold commitments to drive and inspire meaningful change, and I’d now like to provide an update on how we’re tracking against our plan.

On our commitment to drive economic growth and wealth creation:

We’ve partnered with the Canadian federal government on the country’s first-ever Black Entrepreneurship program – an effort that will bring lending support to thousands of Black business owners and entrepreneurs as they look to grow their businesses

We continue to be in discussions on other key, exciting partnerships, and will have more to share on those in the coming months.

On our commitment to invest in youth and create more transformative pathways to prosperity:

I’m proud to announce that in 2020, 44% of RBC summer students globally were Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour.

In addition, for 2021, our goal is to have at least 5% Black student representation and 2% Indigenous student representation globally.

We’ve also doubled our Indigenous Students Awards Program, and donated $250,000 for the empowerment and success of Indigenous students at Toronto’s Humber College.

And on our commitment to redefine inclusive leadership at RBC:

I’m pleased to share we cascaded diversity and inclusion objectives for people leaders in their performance management goals this year. In 2021, these goals will be focused on changing behaviours and challenging biases. And they will require all people leaders to take greater accountability for sponsorship and advocacy of our diverse talent.

Our mandatory anti-racism training will roll-out to all employees over the course of 2021.

And finally, we’re tracking well against our staffing goals. We committed to increase our goal for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour executive staffing from 20% to 30%, and we’ve started the year strong.

I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made to date – but progress is not a destination. We must continue to actively engage and listen to our clients, community members, and our colleagues – to strengthen our culture of inclusion and live our Purpose.

This is absolutely a business imperative for RBC. But it’s also an imperative for our society.

We’re in the midst of a global pandemic – one that has cast an even greater light on the impact racial inequalities and the unfairness of our society.

Disappointingly, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour have disproportionally suffered the impact of the virus from both a financial and health perspective. This is yet another reminder of the work that’s in front of us to stop systemic racism, and to create a fairer society for ourselves and future generations.

Let’s keep doing something about it.