RBC leaders from Capital Markets in the US, UK and Canada engaged in a candid conversation about their personal experiences and challenges through the pandemic, sharing strategies for coping and supporting others through difficult times.

Over the past fourteen months, people around the world have endured a wide range of challenges under the weight of the pandemic. As we continue to face the impacts – including the tragedies of discrimination, balancing the demands of work and family and the compounding stressors of the pandemic – it’s important to celebrate and share how individuals have demonstrated resilience, collaboration, support and care through difficult times.

In this final event of Speak Up For Inclusion month at RBC Capital Markets, Cara Fleisher (U.S.), Head Trading & Execution Strategies/Global Bank Book hosted a panel of international RBC leaders who shared their personal strategies for enduring the pandemic, the role allyship has played in their journey and the importance of meaningful conversations as a means of supporting friends, family and colleagues.

Cara was joined by the following panelists:

  • Cilise Connell (Canada) Vice President, Strategy & Transformation
  • Jennifer Grazel (U.S.) Head of US Brand and Marketing
  • Christina Park (U.S.) Managing Director, GIB Leveraged Finance
  • Clive Tucker (U.K.) Head of Structured Rates Trading Europe and APAC

Here are five approaches the panelists discussed around managing through the pandemic and supporting the needs of others.

1. Adopt personal strategies for coping through challenging times

Each of the panelists had different experiences and challenges at the onset of the pandemic. Clive Tucker, for example, was one of a handful of people who remained in the office last March, working 15+ hours a day, seven days a week.

“It was an extremely difficult time. We were under enormous pressure at work as markets were extremely volatile. On top of that, committing that much time to work meant it was at the expense of family, when our families didn’t know what was going on.”

For Clive, a day-by-day approach and the support of his colleagues helped him manage through the pressure.

“I knew I could get to the next day – that’s how I had to take it. I felt like how a marathon runner might feel in terms of the fabled wall – when you can’t go any further. There were days when I could see the wall.” He gained strength in part by relying on the support of his colleagues who were going through the same thing.

Cilise, meanwhile, struggled with the isolation of working from home. “I didn’t realize the role work played in my life,” she shared with the panel. “How much I enjoyed bumping into people in the hallways or at the food court.” Once she realized this was a long-term situation, she began to isolate herself even more and struggled as she became nervous to wake up in the morning.

In her case, the introduction of an outdoor activity helped her overcome these struggles. “My husband and I started golfing – it enabled me to get outdoors and leave the house while being safe. It became a routine that helped stabilize me.”

Jennifer, who is based in New York City, revealed she had many highs and lows, citing the challenges of managing a team remotely, living on her own, being away from family (most of whom live in Puerto Rico) and the polarizing impact of the U.S. election. With her own family far away, Jennifer leaned into her work family and focused on nurturing activities that would feed her soul.

“I turned to inspiring quotes and used the time to see above the clouds and anchor myself into bigger philosophical things that would keep me going day by day.”

2. Start, lead and join meaningful conversations

Jennifer Grazel came to RBC three years ago because of the special culture of the firm – she was attracted to the diversity of thought, experiences and voices people could bring to the table. The transparency, proactive communications and empathy that was the foundation of her team further manifested itself through the pandemic. “We prioritized one-to-one contact and tried to make consistent effort. People would reach out and say: ‘I think someone is really struggling.‘ We came together as a team.” Being there for one another and having authentic conversations helped build solidarity and understanding.

Christina Park echoed Jennifer’s comments but contextualized that she has been particularly impacted by the recent hate crimes against Asian Americans. “I’ve lived in a diverse community all my life and recent events have been a personal jolt of reality for me that I didn’t see coming. I was always fortunate to be in a diverse area in Manhattan where I felt safe and comfortable. I’m not in that place now. What used to be a walk in Central Park is a stressful activity for me – it’s a freedom that’s been taken away from me.”

Part of what has supported her through these events have been the conversations she’s had with people, and she feels fortunate to have had a lot of outreach from both her family network as well as her friends and colleagues. “We’re so far from the healing process and it’s a big issue with no perfect answer or solution,” she said. “But it starts with awareness and conversations so we can get the community to a place where if I go out, I know people have my back.”

In Canada, the senior leadership team asked a small group of Black employees to come into a safe space and talk about their experiences following George Floyd’s death. Cilise was among those who participated, where she shared the positive experiences she’s had and committed to be a voice for people who have not been as fortunate.

Clive echoed the importance of having real conversations and has seen people talk to each other more and ask more personal questions. “Not just the good questions like: ‘What did you do on the weekend?‘ but more difficult questions such as: ‘How are you feeling? What’s going on?“. In the UK, they have had listening sessions were people had the opportunity to recount their experiences and engage in conversations. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near to finding solutions, but I think people are talking more and that’s a good thing,” he said.

3. Reach out – even if you don’t know what to say

Since last March, support from friends, family and colleagues have helped people get through difficult experiences.

For Christina, support started within her family, but it’s been the outreach from people who weren’t top of mind that has had a more profound impact.

“Hours after what happened in Atlanta, I received a text from someone I barely knew. It said: ‘I feel you and I see you.’ Just those few simple words opened my mind and heart – and it was extra comforting to receive a text from someone who I didn’t even think would be thinking about me.”

She highlighted that people can’t assume others are feeling fine, and we can’t underestimate the power of reaching out – no matter how short the message is. “It’s important to ask questions today that you normally wouldn’t ask,” she said.

Cara also shared that many people don’t know how to reach out, but pointed out that just showing care and concern is enough. “We’re often told: ‘Don’t ask too many questions – people might not want to talk about it.’ But if that’s the case, let them make that choice. I can assure that having reached out and said even one sentence will stay with that person and mean something.”

4. Become comfortable with allyship

For Jennifer, allyship is a way of life, which involves building trust and leading with empathy. “As leaders, allyship materializes in helping people move forward, giving them a platform, celebrating their voice and being inclusive,” she says, adding that it’s important to listen to those who speak quietly. “It’s not always the loudest voices that need to be heard.”

She adds that another element of allyship is checking one’s own unconscious biases, which involves listening learning and growing – and showing others that you’re making the effort.

Cilise agreed that allyship is a lifelong activity and she was involved in the creation of “Getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations,” a program that motivates people to become allies. “We educate and show people where and how they can become allies and tie it to action so that the principles of allyship can be applied day-to-day.”

Clive built on the reality that many people don’t know where to start when it comes to being an ally. “Many people feel they can’t or shouldn’t get involved. But when I speak with people in ERGs, they want people to get involved who aren’t a member – they want male colleagues to come along as they want wider participation in events. Don’t be shy,” he encouraged people who might feel like the odd one out.

5. Approach resilience as a work in progress

When it comes to resilience, Clive felt that people have shown tremendous resilience through the pandemic but cautioned that sometimes we can over-estimate resilience. “We can’t assume that someone is resilient or doing OK,” he said.

Christina and Jennifer agreed that resilience requires a lot of growth – it’s just not a matter of bouncing back from a difficult time. “As I look back on the last 14 months, there is a lot of pain, but I feel like I am in a much better place. It’s important to have the conviction to say: ‘I want this to be better.'” Christina encouraged everyone who sits within a seat of privilege to help those who don’t have that seat. “We need to use our privilege to help others not just bounce back, but for all of us to come out stronger and better as an individual, family team and firm.”

In other words, resilience is not just about coping but asking for help when you need it, taking time to reach out to people who may be struggling and enjoying activities that nurture your well-being. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we can get through tough times if we make a point of doing it together.

Diane Amato is a Toronto-based freelance writer who loves to talk about finances, travel and technology.

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