As countries, companies and investors around the world look ahead to the New Year, they do so with a near-universal desire to close the door on 2020 and never look back.

It was a year marked by a global pandemic and a public reckoning with systemic racism that sparked protests and riots in cities across the world. It was a year in which women in the U.S. lost a decade of economic gains because of the pandemic's disproportionate impact on the industries in which they work or own businesses.

But, 2020 was also a year in which it became abundantly clear that leadership matters. Having the right people at the table making decisions is imperative in both good times and bad.

As Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and founder of Pivotal Ventures, recently shared at the 2020 Women on Boards Global Conversation, “These are big challenges. To meet them, [we] will need a diverse set of perspectives at the table.”

And that table, says Sarah Tang, vice chair of the Enterprise Strategic Client Group at RBC, is anywhere important decisions are being made. That includes the C-suite, business line management, as well as the boardroom.

Earlier this year, 2020 Women on Boards, an education and advocacy campaign dedicated to accelerating more women into the boardroom, released its annual Gender Diversity Index, reporting that women hold an historic 22.6 percent of the publicly traded board seats on the Russell 3000 Index.

“While that's a stark improvement from the 16 percent in 2017, gender balance and diversity on boards, leadership roles, and middle management is lacking,” says Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire, CEO of 2020 Women on Boards.

In its 10th anniversary, having surpassed 20 percent of women on corporate boards seats on the Russell 3000 Index, the campaign in 2021 will change its name to 50/50 Women on Boards – advocating for gender-balanced boards, with women holding half of the corporate board seats on all public company boards.

As a leader in diversity not only in North America, but globally, RBC is committed to improving diversity and inclusion not only within the company itself, but in all communities where RBC does business. Driven by that commitment, the company's RBC Wealth Management division has signed on as Diamond Global Sponsor of 2020 Women on Boards.

“Our D&I vision is to be among the most inclusive and successful companies in the world, putting diversity into action to attract, retain and enable the best talent and increase leadership diversity,” said RBC's Tang. “But to get there, we can't only look within, we have to support diversity in our broader industry and in the communities where we do business.”

Raising the diversity bar

At RBC, women make up 43 percent of the company's corporate board. The company is also a founding member of the Canadian chapter of the 30% Club, whose objective is to have 30 percent of women on boards by 2020. In the U.S., 33 percent of RBC's directors are women.

In its Diversity & Inclusion Blueprint 2020, RBC acknowledges that as a business leader, it has the opportunity to act as a broader change agent in society.

“Supporting 2020 Women on Boards in their efforts to increase the representation of women and people of color in corporate boardrooms is one way we serve as a change agent in the broader community,” says Shareen Luze, head of human resources at RBC Wealth Management-U.S. “Ensuring we're living up to our commitment to do the same within our own executive and corporate ranks is another.”

That's because corporate boards generally draw candidates from the leadership ranks of companies like RBC, Luze says. “If we're not promoting women and people of color into leadership roles, there's an impact not only on our company, but on the entire pipeline of diverse candidates for all kinds of roles.”

Ambassador Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, echoed that sentiment at the 2020 Women on Boards Global Conversation event. “We need to see more women in the operational side of companies, not just in HR where women have historically made strong contributions,” Verveer said.

It's equally important for companies recruiting for open board seats to look beyond the C-suite, added Melinda Gates. “One of the reasons we don't see more women on boards is there is this old school perception that in order to be a board member, you need the letters C-E-O by your name. That's not true.”

In fact, in 2020, women in chief people officer, general counsel and corporate real estate positions played critical roles in helping their organizations respond to the pandemic.

“The pandemic has shone a spotlight on these critical skill sets,” Gates said.

How companies and investors can drive board diversity

While RBC Wealth Management's sponsorship of 2020 Women on Boards kicked off with the Global Conversation on Nov. 12, the commitment will continue throughout 2021.

RBC Wealth Management will support the organization's 28 city/state conversations, and RBC executives will serve as 2020 Women on Boards liaisons across the country.

“Keeping the conversation going and taking an honest look at where we are and where we still need to go is the only way to reach the goal of parity in female board representation,” Luze says.

“It's important that boardrooms are populated with people who represent the marketplace,” said Valerie Jarrett at the Nov. 12 event. “I won't be satisfied until we have half of our population represented on boards - and I don't think you should be either.”

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