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DiversityInc Leadership Profiles: Zabeen Hirji, Royal Bank of Canada

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Zabeen Hirji took a job at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in 1977 while she was pursuing her MBA at Simon Fraser University. And she has never left.

Up until 10 years ago, she worked on the business side of the bank, including retail banking, operations and the credit-card division. Hirji was appointed senior vice president of human resources at RBC, Canada’s largest bank, in 2001. She helps drive the company’s diversity strategy with its focus on talent, workplace, clients and community.

Hirji was born in Tanzania and moved to Canada with her widowed mother in 1974, when she was 14. (Her father died in a car accident.)

“I think my mother and my grandmother showed me that a dream-big-and-take-action-to-get-there mindset, coupled with focus and a sense of confidence, can be great assets, especially when it comes to dealing with the many challenges of career, life and work,” Hirji says. “They also taught me by example that this has to come with compassion, with a spirit of giving back.”

Hirji, an Ismaili Muslim, gained a lot of public-speaking experience from the mosque. “I started speaking when I was around 5 years old, and to this day, I still do,” she says. “Now I’m speaking about careers and also women in leadership.”

Her East Indian grandmother—who taught herself how to read—also taught Hirji how to speak Katchi, a traditional Indian language.

“My family has moved and adapted to different cultures and environments and thrived,” Hirji says. “In many ways, that set the stage for my interest in diversity on a personal level.”

RBC actively targets recent immigrants, women entrepreneurs, Canadian Aboriginals, the gay and lesbian community and people with disabilities, she says.

Today, women represent 40 percent of the executive positions at RBC and visible “minorities” are 14 percent. “We believe that to succeed, we must harness everyone’s talents and energy and apply them to achieving our common goals,” she says.

Click here to see this article as it originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of DiversityInc magazine.

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