Nicole Dunham. Photo courtesy of RBC Wealth Management.
“Diversity and inclusion are long-held values at RBC Wealth Management,” says Nicole Dunham, Deputy Head of RBC Wealth Management Fixed Income. “And we put those values into action.” RBC Wealth Management is a financial services firm with more than 5,400 employees in 42 states.
In recent years, Dunham, who leads the company’s Women Empowered employee resource group (ERG), says that the firm has stepped up its efforts to diversify their workforce. For instance, it now has a Diversity Recruitment Program Manager building a pipeline of diverse talent and working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to recruit African American men and women to the industry.
And, in 2022, “RBC Wealth Management became a member of the Financial Alliance for Racial Equity Coalition, which is made up of financial services firms, HBCUs, and industry partners with the goal of making a career in finance more inclusive,” says Dunham. Also in 2022, the firm held its first all-employee Women’s Summit. “We have placed extra emphasis on bringing women into financial advisor and field leadership roles,” Dunham explains to Fairygodboss. “We’ve made progress on increasing the number of women across the company and are continuing to dedicate resources to creating a more racially diverse workforce, as well.”
RBC Wealth Management has had a long history of supporting women. For instance, “our Women’s Association of Financial Advisors has been in existence for more than 30 years, and is one of the oldest such groups in the industry,” explains Dunham. RBC Wealth Management’s focus on diversity doesn’t stop once employees join the firm. “Not only do we strive to have a more diverse workforce, we want to provide a welcoming and inclusive work environment for all employees,” Dunham explains. At the core of creating this welcoming environment are their five ERGs:
1. The Multicultural Employee Alliance
4. Women’s Association of Financial Advisors (WAFA)
5. Women Empowered (WE)
As the WE co-chair, Dunham says that she is most familiar with that group, which is the largest ERG in the company and open to everyone, regardless of their gender identity. The WE leadership team meets monthly to discuss goals, review feedback from members about past events, and plan future events and activities. Dunham says that WE makes an effort to collaborate with other ERGs, as well, to share feedback and plan events on a regular basis.
“We started WE just two and a half years ago, and we have 1,100 members — 60% of our members are outside of our home office, and 40% of our members are male allies,” she says. “We have been mostly in awe of the rapid growth. We knew there was interest, but didn’t anticipate the fast growth. To have over 1,000 members proves there was a need for this group. When 50% of the working population is women, we want to make sure they feel supported.”
Here, we caught up with Dunham to learn more about her career at RBC Wealth Management, her involvement in the WE ERG, and how she feels that the financial firm supports women in the workplace.
When I was in high school, I worked at a country club as a lifeguard. Many of the members I interacted with on a regular basis worked for a local investment firm. Over my high school and college years, I got to know the families and learned a lot about the business. So, I applied for an internship there one summer and was assigned to the fixed income program. I was fascinated by the business and went on to pursue a career in fixed income after graduating with a finance degree.
After college, I was visiting Minneapolis when I ran into a friend who was just finishing a position in the RBC Wealth Management Fixed Income Rotational Program. They were hiring, and that’s how I got started here in 2005. I worked in various roles on the trading floor, including an eight month stint in Hong Kong building out the structured investment platforms for our wealth management clients in Asia. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that taught me the importance of accepting these chances as they come along and trusting my ability to do the job well.
In 2014, I built the fixed income business development team, which is responsible for deepening relationships with our 2,100+ financial advisors and supporting them and their clients in constructing their fixed income portfolios.
I was appointed as Deputy Head, US WM Fixed Income, in October 2021. In this role, I assist in leading the overall fixed income trading, marketing, and risk management for taxable and tax exempt securities on the brokerage and advisory platforms.
I worked my way up from associate trader to my current role over the past 17 years, and it’s been a fulfilling, rewarding experience.
I want to make sure things aren’t falling off the radar, so I lead by example. I offer my support and make myself available as often as possible. I care deeply about giving back and creating a welcoming path for women in the finance industry. This industry and the trading business are definitely male-dominated and can be intimidating, so it can be difficult to recruit women.
Personally, I was really lucky in that RBC has always had a significant number of women who already worked on my team. And now it’s interesting to be on the other side, in a leadership role, and helping women have an easier path.
I make time for this work because I care about helping women recognize the opportunities that are open to them and guide them in overcoming barriers that could hold them back from pursuing those opportunities. There are a lot of women here who are now in positions that they never imagined when they first started in our business. I enjoy coaching and mentoring women to help them recognize that they, too, can thrive and prosper at RBC Wealth Management.
In 2019, I was part of a women’s cohort sponsored by RBC, and we were asked to develop a capstone project. Unanimously, we all had a desire to create a women’s group that supported all of the women in the company, not just those in certain roles. We later expanded our membership to include male allies, an important element of increasing the number of women in senior leadership. We approached our leadership with the idea of creating an ERG, and they were enthusiastically on board with us moving forward. So, we spent a year proving the concept, creating bylaws, and developing goals before we became an official ERG in January 2020. As a leader of this grassroots effort, I was asked to co-chair the group.
When the pandemic hit, we had to think differently about how to connect with employees when we weren’t in the office. Our WE leadership team started sharing our own stories of how we were coping with all the change and uncertainty, which resonated with people who craved personal stories and connections. We started hosting virtual get-togethers with events like virtual yoga and online cocktail making classes.
Then, we began hosting events to support women in the new normal. We had guest speakers talking about how to advocate for yourself in a virtual environment, how to balance work and life, and combatting burnout. We covered professional development topics and even financial literacy.
The virtual element is what allowed our membership to grow so fast. We hit 500 members by July of the first year, which is unheard of. Because all of our events were hosted via video conferencing, we were able to reach a broader employee population nationwide, as opposed to hosting events in person at and limiting our participation to our corporate home office.
Our ERGs are a grassroots effort, meaning they are created and led mostly by volunteers, passionate employees with a desire to make an impact. This is what I believe makes our ERGs so impactful for the organization.
To ensure maximum impact, we also provide surveys for our members. We ask what areas they want to learn about, and we concentrate on a couple of key goals each year. There is so much opportunity to cover a lot of things, but we have to focus on what our members need most.
Another unique aspect of our WE group is that we have a male executive sponsor in addition to our female executive sponsor. Our Head of US WM Fixed Income Matt Boardman raised his hand immediately, showing his desire to become an advocate. He often reaches out to the men in the organization and helps a lot of women feel encouraged and supported.
Our executive committee is 40% women, and we have similar percentages of women in senior roles at our corporate offices. There are definitely a lot of women role models here, which is inspiring. We have mentorship and development programs available, and we offer generous benefits programs that support women who have family responsibilities, like paid maternity and caregiver leave, back-up child and elder care, fertility resources and mental health support. In addition, we have a strong network of male allies, which I believe creates a unique and supportive environment for all women at our firm — 40% of our Women’s ERG (WE) members are men.
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