From the "Diversathon" to Kairos blanket exercises and meetings with Elders, RBC is using cultural education to increase awareness and earn the right to become Indigenous talent's employer of choice.
Michael Polak (“Star Bear”) was on a train heading to what he thought was an everyday diversity event put on by RBC’s Global Diversity & Inclusion team — until he opened his email.
He received a message from the event organizer assigning him to a team, which was made up of his colleagues. The group’s goal? To brainstorm with 16 other teams of Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees to come up with fresh ways to inspire more Indigenous talent to choose RBC as their employer of choice. At the end of the Diversathon judges would select the top three employee ideas.
“I never experienced anything like that before,” says Polak, an Associate Account Manager in Commercial Banking in Burlington, Ontario. “There were some pretty high-level decision makers there.”
Polak, who is part Polish and part Mohawk, grew up off-reserve near Six Nations of the Grand River in southwestern Ontario. He came to RBC through the Aboriginal Student Internship Program (ASIP), working summers in customer service at a retail branch while completing his finance degree at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. Despite being very grateful about his opportunity in retail banking, Polak became aware of other opportunities at the bank. He eventually ended up in a role more aligned with his passion — commercial banking.
During the Diversathon, Polak shared his viewpoint to help HR leaders grasp what Indigenous people want and need from a top employer like RBC. As a result, his team’s idea was one of the judge’s top three picks.
Out of the top three solutions pitched by teams during the Diversathon, two have now been rolled out:
An employee-led grassroots social movement called “I Commit” calls on non-Indigenous staff to state their commitment to actions like reading a book or attending a ceremony to help better understand Indigenous viewpoints.
The second, called RBC Indigenous Mentoring Experience (RIME) is a program designed to strengthen the professional support system for Indigenous staff and increase cross-cultural awareness. More than 170 people have signed up to be mentored or to mentor.
Coming out of the Diversathon, Polak was also invited to attend the Royal Eagles Retreat, an off-site conference in Kingston, Ontario for members of the Ontario Royal Eagles (RBC’s employee resource group for Indigenous employees and their non-Indigenous supporters).
For some, meeting with other Indigenous employees at the Retreat was a way to learn more about their culture. It was no different for Polak, who had the opportunity to sit down for a one-on-one conversation with an Ojibwe Elder, who gave him his native name, Little Dipper, which means Star Bear — because when the Little Dipper constellation is turned upside down, it looks like a bear.
The retreat along with other Indigenous focused programs and events are demonstrating that RBC’s executive leadership is serious about creating more authentic partnerships with Indigenous employees. RBC’s shift is very important to Polak. “It makes you feel empowered and proud that your company is thinking this way, not just doing things for the sake of doing them,” he says. ‘’Being part of meaningful change is something that I value personally.”
Through various programs and experiences at RBC, all of us can choose to aspire to better understand these unique Indigenous perspectives and histories, and in doing so, make RBC a more welcoming space where these cultural differences are respected and valued.
– Angela White, RBC Senior Manager of Diversity and Governance
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