John Montalbano recently retired as vice-chairman of RBC Wealth Management.
Canadian leaders often speak of being in a "war for talent." We lament that attracting highly skilled professionals to Canadian organizations can be challenging, as we have few levers to pull to differentiate ourselves from our global peers.
While the fog is still clearing around the new U.S. administration, Canadian professional services firms are suddenly at a distinct advantage to attract and retain global talent – and the time to strike is now. Today's recruitment opportunity is of similar magnitude to the last one presented to Canada by the global financial crisis.
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This time, our global appeal is our commitment to diversity and inclusion.
During the financial crisis of 2008, Canadian sound-mindedness was globally admired for having protected customers, employees, shareholders and many other stakeholders from the worst financial atrocities experienced in the United States and Europe. Canadian corporate brands catapulted into the spotlight and "Brand Canada" gave our businesses unprecedented access to new foreign market opportunities. Importantly, we became employers of choice for international talent.
At RBC Global Asset Management (a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada), of which I was CEO at the time, we opportunistically took advantage of Canada's preferred global standing and aggressively expanded our presence in Britain and the United States. In London alone, we increased our head count from 10 employees to more than 400 today. While the global financial crisis was punitive to many, for the Royal Bank and other Canadian institutions it was a golden period to attract and retain talent that historically would have chosen foreign "blue-chip" companies ahead of those in Canada.
"Brand Canada" was so powerful that even the Bank of England could not resist, and hired a Canadian, Mark Carney, to lead the country out of its own financial debacle.
Which brings us to today. In the weeks following the 2016 U.S. election, we have witnessed intensifying interest of Americans seeking immigration to Canada (European interest has increased as well). Our business and political leaders should unapologetically take advantage of this renewed interest in Canada and highlight the benefits of becoming an employee of a Canadian company, inside and outside of our borders. We should also be mindful of our own practices.
Before my retirement in December, I hosted a steady stream of women and visible minorities bewildered by the events south of our border. Their commonly held fear was that the unhealthy discourse of the election, and its outcome, would make it okay for unconscious (discriminatory) biases to become conscious biases within the workplace. Or, at the very least, allow unconscious biases to be reinforced. This uncertainty and dismay deserves to be addressed by our business leaders, even though the genesis of these fears took place outside of our country.
Corporate leaders who believe that their organizations have a culture that supports meritocracy in the workplace should acknowledge the concerns that have arisen among those who fear the repercussions of recent events. All employees want to hear that their CEO is sensitive to the presently heightened concerns of women, visible minorities, LBGT communities and those with physical challenges. It is the time to be vocal about your commitment to robust diversity practices.
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Where gaps exist in a company's diversity initiatives, this is the perfect time to review and introduce key action items, such as: pay equity (merit and experience should be the key differentiators); diversity targets for board appointments, external recruitment and internal promotions (or similarly a commitment to principles consistent with those introduced by Catalyst Canada, an advocacy organization dedicated to progress for women through workplace inclusion); mentorship programs aimed at building experience and exposure for high performers in mid-management positions where diversity pools are generally deep; campus recruitment programs that reflect local demographics and that of the emerging work force; removal of the stigma of paternity leave, and synchronization of maternity benefits in the United States to those offered in Canada; and introduction of mandatory programs for all senior executives, addressing conscious and unconscious biases.
The war for talent rages and the time is now for our CEOs to boldly declare an unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion. "Brand Canada" is our recruiting advantage. Use it to full affect, without apology.