​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Creating stronger connections in the workplace makes RBC a better place for women in technology to thrive

Read Time : 3 minutes 

Women in Digital aims to create better engagement for the women working in digital roles at RBC. 

​​​​​​​This article was originally published here.  

Four years ago, a handful of women working in digital roles at RBC recognized their female counterparts were feeling a lack of connection with the professional women's community within and outside the bank. Although a majority of women believed RBC was a good place to work, responders to an internal survey ranked 'connectedness' at only 3.5 out of 10.

Women in Digital was formed to help better engage employees through mentorship and networking opportunities and to learn from the stories of other women who have succeeded in their careers. The group focuses on the everyday experiences and challenges women face, with an aim to make incremental improvements on an individual level.

Today, the group is made up of women and men who are committed to making a real and measurable difference in the lives of women working in RBC Digital. Indeed, since 2018, women who say they feel ‘very connected’ to the bank has increased 749%. In a recent roundtable discussion, three members of the Women in Digital leadership team shared more about the group's purpose, activities and the progress that's been made over the last few years.

Roundtable Participants:
Katherine (Kate) Kurtz
Senior Director, Principle Engineering Lead, RBC Ventures
Tenure at RBC: 3.5 years

Mary Lou Bozin
Senior Director, Technology Partnerships
Tenure at RBC: 5 years

Sue Chan
VP, Digital Delivery & Loyalty Technology
Executive Sponsor of Women in Digital
Tenure at RBC: 36 years

Q: Understanding an employee's feeling of connectedness figures prominently in your annual survey. How do you define connectedness and why is it so important?
A: “Connectedness is around feeling that you have a sense of community, where you can see yourself represented, share similar challenges and have a network of people that you can tap into,” explains Mary Lou. “There are many ways to feel connected, but for us, being connected to other women in this environment really gives us the opportunity to share common experiences and challenges, look for advice, find ways to problem-solve and get support for those common challenges.”

Sue adds that a feeling of connectedness helps create a leadership pipeline. “It is the ultimate success of your company,” she says. “You cannot always go to market and tap the talent pool.” As a result, creating a leadership pipeline and continuing to create opportunities with your workforce is a must. The leadership panel makes a compelling business case for connectedness, noting for instance, how it has helped grow the number of “net promoters” of RBC over time.

Q: What kinds of events does Women in Digital hold?
A: As Kate explains, Women in Digital runs coaching circles, networking events, book clubs, “Tasty Tidbits” (a lunchtime discussion series), as well as some different events within RBC Ventures that cater to their unique innovation and start-up mentality. While the events are excellent ways to bring people together, they do more than nurture connection. “If someone wants to grow a skill they don't get a chance to develop in their everyday role, they can do it through our events,” Kate explains, citing examples of junior employees running coaching circles and others who have deepened product knowledge by having the opportunity to talk to people outside their immediate team.

Q: What can Women in Digital do to improve work/life balance for women, and parents in particular?
A: “Work/life balance was always a top 5 concern,” explains Mary Lou. “But when COVID hit, it suddenly bubbled up to number one.” This is not surprising, given many women had significant and ever-evolving caregiving responsibilities throughout the pandemic. “We’ve held events to raise awareness of the challenges that women were facing with parenting,” explains Mary Lou. “We had a panel discussion and open Q&A, where people talked openly about their challenges. We hosted additional talks about mental health, which helped people feel less alone with their struggles.”
Sue adds that in addition to raising awareness among employees, it was also essential to raise awareness among managers to help them understand that the females working on their teams were taking on disproportional responsibilities outside of work compared to their male counterparts.

She further explains that to be truly successful at creating change, action must spring from awareness. “We need to move to the next step, which might involve the individual feeling comfortable enough to say they can't meet at a certain time because they're getting their kids ready for school. And then the manager has to understand that and acknowledge their request for flexibility will not impact their performance.”

Q: Why is Women in Digital focused on everyday experiences, versus tackling policy or the bigger picture?
A: As an employee of RBC for thirty-six years, Sue recognizes that the organization has progressive policies and enterprise goals to advance diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels. But she also recognizes that when she looks at the individual challenges of employees, one size doesn't fit all. “I know that the rising tide lifts all boats, but at the individual level, you could be more desperate than the next person or have a more immediate problem than the next person. So, our approach is more at the personal level.” She explains that their approach focuses on ensuring women are aware of the choices available to them and enabling them to pick the options that work best for them.

Q: Where have you seen the most progress so far?
A: Over her thirty-six years at RBC, Sue has seen a lot more women leaders at all different levels, including the organization's board chair. “When I first started, I was the only woman in an R&D tech group. Even in a room of 50 people, I would be the only female in. So there has been great progress in representation.”

Kate adds that earlier in her career, prior to joining the bank, she was often the only woman at the table, but has seen a difference at RBC. “There is more of an inclusive and supportive work style at RBC and whenever I get to be in a team that is more diverse, it feels more collaborative to me, the ideas come in differently and people are able to solve the problem together.” Kate also explains when diversity of thought is ingrained into the bank’s culture, it leads to “better ideas and better products.” She concludes: “RBC operates in markets with diverse populations. Having diverse teams help us meet their needs, and those of the communities where we live and work.”
 Even over five years, Mary Lou has seen a strong increase in representation. She has also seen more progress when it comes to flexibility, with an increased ability to move around or to slow down one's career trajectory when needed – and to pick it back up again.

The panelists also share that they have also seen more men come to the table to have conversations about the challenges women have within the workforce – something they find satisfying and heartening. “These are conversations we need to have collectively, so that's another area of progress,” says Mary Lou.

Q: Where do you think more progress is needed?
A: As Kate posts for senior technical jobs, she may get one female applicant out of ten. “There is a lot of data and research that says women won't apply to a job unless they meet all the criteria – our approach is slightly different compared to someone who will throw their hat in the ring and see what happens.” So, from her perspective, more needs to be done to reach out with targeted support and encouragement to apply. “We have to support women to get outside their comfort zone to actually apply for those jobs.”

Mary Lou adds: “The biggest gap is making sure that we have women in the pipeline, and then reaching into that pipeline. Industry-wide, we hear that we haven't had as many women in the technology pipeline over the last twenty-five years. It's really about making sure that women are always in the pot for consideration and continuing to put women in those places where they have the potential to grow.”
RBC Women in Digital is tackling the everyday challenges facing women in technology roles and making a meaningful and measurable difference their professional and personal lives. By creating stronger connections in the workplace, increasing awareness and taking incremental action, they are making RBC a better place for women in technology to thrive.
Photo from left: Katherine (Kate) Kurtz, Sue Chan, and Mary Lou Bozin