The inclusivity imperative: unlocking banking success through workforce diversity
In conversation with Devon Elke, Senior Director, RBC
Published: 15 June 2023
By May Moorwood
Digital Content Producer
It’s Pride Month! We spoke to Devon Elke, Senior Director at the Royal Bank of Canada, about her personal experience as a queer woman in the financial services industry. In today’s consumer-focused, innovation-obsessed industry, the pursuit of first-class products takes centre stage. Furthermore, as generative AI and digital value-added services redefine the banking and payments sector, attracting technically skilled employees from a growing Gen Z workforce is more important than ever. Devon highlights the importance of fostering safe, supportive, and inclusive workplaces that empower employees to deliver the best possible experience to a diverse customer base.
From your experience, what are some of the challenges that LGBTQIA+ employees face in the financial services industry? How does this affect the workplace itself?
Having started in financial services 16 years ago, Devon recalls that despite the progress made in terms of public support for Pride, she found that the expectation to remain closeted still prevailed in the workplace. “Even though I was open in all other aspects of my life, at work I self-censored” and “it took a material toll on my wellbeing”. As a result, Devon invested her energy into “developing the strength to push back against those limiting norms” and today feels that her experience of being a proud queer woman in financial services has “made me a better leader and a better innovator” – “I’m more sensitive to trying to make our teams and our products inclusive across a range of factors. And I’d like to think that helps bring out the best in people, so they can do their best work.”
“I really believe that our interpersonal connections are what drive results and innovation”
Devon acknowledges that, even today, being the only queer person in the room is a common occurrence in the financial services industry. This situation “can sometimes feel alienating and demotivating” and more difficult to access camaraderie and connection. “I really believe that our interpersonal connections are what drive results and innovation”, she says. “I feel it’s important to understand and appreciate the barriers that individuals may be facing inside and outside of work, and to set up our workplaces to ensure that there is equity at all levels and inclusive communities. Otherwise, organisations are missing out on valuable insights and participation from their full workforce”.
As we look towards the next generation of talent, why is it crucial for the financial services industry to prioritise inclusivity?
“It’s better for business!” Devon emphasises that prioritising inclusivity is not only the right thing to do but also beneficial for businesses. “When workplaces and decision-makers reflect the communities they serve, they can develop products and services that truly meet the needs of a wider customer base.” Furthermore, creating a safe and empowering environment for employees enables them to perform at their highest levels, resulting in improved tools and services for clients.
Considering the importance of creating an inclusive workplace, how do you believe the financial services industry can improve its talent acquisition strategies to attract and retain more diverse talent?
“Inclusivity is important for business but also, when we look at generations that are coming up as employees, consumers and clients of our products – I feel like those younger generations are going demand inclusivity of us, of our organisation models, our leadership styles and our products”. Devon talks about two key measures for financial services organisations looking to advance the evolution of diverse workplaces. Firstly, organisations need to address unconscious biases that may influence hiring practices. Examining factors that might inadvertently prioritise certain identities over others can help ensure a wider range of lived experiences within teams. Without this range of perspectives, organisation models, culture and products are going to serve a limited subset of the population. If organisations want to attract and retain more diverse talent, they must start by scrutinising frameworks, policies, and behaviours at the top of the funnel.
The second piece is around training your leaders – “what is the prerequisite to becoming a leader in the organisation?” As well as traditional measures of success – product development or financial management skills – we need to be prioritising emotional intelligence, inclusivity, self-awareness and make these criteria for leadership roles, says Devon. Holding leaders accountable for creating inclusive teams, and providing support and training will help drive meaningful change in this way. Devon also highlights the importance of keeping equity and ethics at the forefront of our minds as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes increasingly integrated into the industry. Unless we tap into wider talent and data pools, biases can inadvertently perpetuate in algorithms, compromising the accuracy of the model and underscoring the ongoing need for diverse voices across the industry.
“We need to be prioritising emotional intelligence, inclusivity, self-awareness and make these criteria for leadership roles.”
Ultimately, says Devon, “we don’t just lose our identity as soon as we walk into the workplace” so inclusivity and support for diversity needs to be “part of the fabric of everything we do, year-round.” If you think Devon’s onto something, catch her speaking at our next event, MoneyLIVE North America in Chicago next month – you don’t want to miss it!
Senior Director, RBC
Devon has been leading innovation at the intersection of technology and business strategy, across financial and professional services, for the past 15+ years. She is currently Sr. Director of Product for RBC’s Shopping experiences within Avion Rewards, and before that led product for the bank’s Solution Acceleration & Innovation group. Prior to RBC, Devon was responsible for the product and data program for a consortium of Canada’s largest employers, as part of a pandemic response launched by the Creative Destruction Lab at the University of Toronto (CDL Rapid Screening Consortium). Devon also spent almost a decade establishing a market-leading innovation and digital product framework for an international law firm, and earlier, started her career as a director within the performing arts.