As RBC tries to become as diverse and inclusive as possible, it is asking employees to examine their blind spots and banish their “mind bugs." It's all part of an organizational strategy to address unconscious bias that has been in place since 2013.

Based on the work of Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard University professor of social ethics and co-author of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.

RBC’s unconscious bias campaign is “confronting these issues to start a dialogue as opposed to making people feel guilty or wrong for having bias,” says Rod Bolger, senior vice president, finance and controller.

Bolger was first introduced to the concept of unconscious bias a few years back when Banaji was invited to speak to RBC’s senior executives and its diversity leadership council. Taking part in that first workshop and other follow-up sessions has been an eye opener for Bolger, and made him more conscious about many of the work decisions he regularly has to make.

The work in this area goes well beyond the notion of diversity. It is about inclusion and inclusive leadership.

Norma Tombari, Director of Global Diversity

For example, shortly after learning about unconscious bias, Bolger had to choose a member of his team to send to work on a new project in New York.

His first instinct was to assign the person he usually did. “But I stepped back and said, ‘Am I choosing this person due to an unconscious bias?'”

In the end he sent a team member of a different race and gender. “They went and did a great job too, bringing a ton to the table and adding a lot of value different from what I would have gotten had I sent the same person I would have typically sent.”

Norma Tombari, director of global diversity, says learning about unconscious bias helped clear away some of her mind bugs, as Banaji calls them, and made her realize how bias can sometimes be a by-product of the way you work. “We are so pressed for time and we’re very quick in some of our decision-making and in discussions with people,” Tombari explains.

“One thing I try to do when we’re working through a solution is to stop, reflect and ask, ‘Are any biases or blind spots evident here?’ We now have a common language that helps open doors to comfortable conversations,” she says.

“The work in this area goes well beyond the notion of diversity. It is about inclusion and inclusive leadership. We do think fostering diversity of thought will enable us to be more innovative.”

Bolger notes that the way diversity is addressed in the workplace has evolved from an initiative seen as “the right thing to do” to a business strategy conferring competitive advantage to today’s drive for inclusiveness. “It’s always a moving frontier,” he says. “Unconscious bias is that next frontier.”

So is advancement of women, which Tombari says is a theme that continues to resonate across the world. Globally, RBC launched the Women in Leadership program, with 26 women from across the bank participating in the first 10-month program designed to provide exposure to executives, encourage network building and offer peer coaching and support. RBC has also created a new Women@ RBC community on the company’s private social networking platform. Employees can meet virtually to discuss issues important to women and access a range of resources, including how to launch a “Lean In” circle.

Bolger notes that RBC is committed to measuring its progress in all areas of diversity including women, visible minorities, people with disabilities, LGBT and aboriginal communities. “We try to capture what we can measure so we can see tangible benefits,” he says, noting that more than 11,000 RBC employees have had exposure to the unconscious bias programming and the training goal is to reach most employees by 2016.

“Hopefully we can continue to make progress on this front,” says Bolger, “as I think it benefits the broader community, the more it’s understood.”

26 Initial participants in Women in Leadership program; 2,000+ participants in Diversity Dialogues mentoring program.

Reproduced with permission from the announcement magazine for Canada's Top 100 Employers (2017), published November 7, 2016 in The Globe and Mail. © 2016 Mediacorp Canada Inc. and The Globe and Mail. All rights reserved.

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