RBC’s MOSAIC ERG has global presence and an aim to foster cultural diversity. In a special event, Fouzia Younis joined to share her insights.

On World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, RBC colleagues across the globe  came together to reflect on the power of diversity, inspire creativity and innovation, and promote a more inclusive society.

RBC’s MOSAIC Employee Resource Group (ERG) has a global presence with more than 7,000 members worldwide. Their mission is to foster cultural diversity, which they do through promoting open communication, empathy and respect. In recognition of this global day, they  welcomed British Consul General to Toronto Ms Fouzia Younis MBE to Toronto as well as being  the first British Muslim woman to head a diplomatic post in the British diplomatic service. In an interview with RBC’s Desiree Clarke Noble, Consul General Younis shared her thoughts about breaking barriers and her experience as a leader and advocate for diversity and inclusion.

Q: What does a typical day look like as the British Consul General to Toronto?

Consul General Younis: I am the UK government’s most senior diplomatic representative to the province of Ontario, and I am responsible for the breadth and depth of the UK relationship here. This could include working on our very vibrant trade relationship, developing people-to-people connections between our Commonwealth nations, providing consular services to the many Brits that live within this province, or working on our foreign policy goals such as climate change. No day is the same.

Q: Growing up in Stourbridge, in the West Midlands, England,  the granddaughter of migrants and the first person in your family to attend university, was there a key moment that helped you find your passion and set you on your incredible career journey?

Consul General Younis: It all started with a pencil. The school I went to wasn’t very diverse and I’d never been on holiday anywhere. One November, when I was about nine years old, the teacher came back with a pencil from the United States – and it was a pencil that was celebrating Halloween. It was the first time somebody had given me a present from another country. I remember looking at the pencil and thinking Halloween was something I’d only seen celebrated in movies. I thought, “I want to be an explorer., I want to travel and meet different people and take part in different celebrations that are happening around the world.” That was a defining moment for me.

Q: You started off as an intern at the British High Commission in India. What was it like in those early days as an intern?

Consul General Younis: I remember being a 19-year-old posted to India. It was a personal moment for me because it was the first time in my life I could wear jeans – my parents had never allowed me to wear jeans. This was before the days of social media, so I could do what I wanted and not worry a about being recorded.

This was also an opportunity for me to explore my ancestral roots, which were also in British India. What struck me was that many of my counterparts were surprised at how much the colonial legacy still mattered in India. I was the only person in the room who came from a diverse background, who was a Brit, but with South Asian heritage. I could explain that while colonial history hadn’t really been taught in our schools, this part of British history is still so important within a country like India, Pakistan or Bangladesh.  It was a career-defining moment, representing modern, diverse Britain on the global stage.

Q: You have previously mentioned that no one looks like you in the room. The theme today is all about breaking barriers. What motivated you to keep going and break through the barriers?

Consul General Younis: I was a young 21-year-old when I joined the Foreign Office. When I would walk into rooms, there were photographs on the walls of colonial masters who had ruled over my ancestors – typically, they tended to be white male, of a certain background. And then when I looked around me in the room, there was nobody who looked like me.

For me, this was difficult because there was no one I could turn to and say, “oh, this is how they’ve done it, this is what I need to do to succeed.” I realized something needed to change. And although I might not feel like I really belonged, the times of the colonial masters were long gone, and I knew I had absolutely every right to be at that table. I also had to make sure that I would not be the last, and that the people who would come after me and come into this room would feel welcome.

Q: You have mentioned that your parents, particularly your mother, was a huge inspiration to you. What advice did she give you that you lean on in your career and your life?

Consul General Younis: When my mom arrived in the UK, she had never been to school. She was a young bride at 17/18 years old and made this country her home. One of the best pieces of advice she gave me was to have independence, particularly financial independence. She would say, “If you’ve got financial independence, you can do anything you want in your life and you don’t need to lean on the men in your family.”

When I have worked in countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, this is something I’ve taken with me – because not only is educating girls important but ensuring that their education doesn’t go to waste is crucial.

Q: You’re just over a year into your role in Toronto. We know that different cultures prefer different leadership styles. How have you had to adjust your leadership style in Canada?

Consul General Younis: I always think that in your leadership style, you have to be authentic and true to yourself. Like the UK, Toronto is a very diverse place – and I love it. It is the most diverse city in the world and makes me feel like home. In our office, we have over 12 different nationalities that work for us. We speak over 17 languages. My leadership style is about who I am – being kind, being empathetic, building trust, respecting differences, valuing excellence and collaborating.

Other insights and life lessons from Consul General Fouzia Younis

With a wide range of experiences in countries around the world, Consul General Younis has embraced and advocated for diversity and inclusion everywhere she goes. Taking questions from RBC employees, she adds the following advice and messages as valuable takeaways:

  • Be vulnerable: Authenticity in leadership matters. If you’re not true to yourself and you’re not true to your values, you get found out pretty quickly.
  • Take accountability for diversity – wherever you are in an organization: Don’t just leave it to HR – take responsibility for change within your teams.
  • Let go of the burden of discrimination: If you face discrimination, don’t put the burden on yourself. It’s the responsibility of others to treat others fairly.
  • Talk to everyone: Especially if you’re moving to a new country, city or job. You never know where a conversation might lead you.
  • Dream for equality: Make your voice matter and use your position and platform to create impact.

As Consul General Younis demonstrates – through her passion, advocacy and exceptional career path – little things matter. If a pencil can inspire someone to become a powerful change maker, anyone and everyone can break barriers by doing the simplest of things. On this World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development – and every day through the year – taking some kind of action to embrace and advance diversity and inclusion can make a difference for the people in the room and the people who walk in the door after you.

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