To Janice Fukakusa, diversity is about more than platitudes. It's about tactical solutions-and a willingness to Royal Bank of Canada's Janice Fukakusa is a passionate advocate not only of the diverse group of people she mentors and sponsors, but of the idea of diversity itself. Considering her stature within the Toronto-based bank and her breadth of responsibilities as both chief administrative officer and chief financial officer, it is a viewpoint that carries significant weight.

It's also a good fit at a company that has made diversity a strategic goal and taken steps to operationalize it.

For any senior role being filled at RBC, "we have to see candidates that are females [or] visible minorities," says Fukakusa. When they don't make the cut, she says, the company diagnoses the situation so that it can provide specific feedback to candidates and spot any gaps in its own policies or procedures.

RBC, Canada's largest lender by assets, takes a similarly considered approach to "stretch" assignments, in which employees are promoted based more on their potential than on their prior experience. Managers are encouraged to offer these opportunities, particularly to women and minorities, but they also are expected to provide a "safety net," Fukakusa says, so that if an assignment doesn't pan out, the employee still has a path to build a successful career elsewhere within the bank.

She credits such operational tactics with turning RBC's cultural resolve into measurable progress. Women, for example, currently hold 36 percent of RBC executive roles in Canada and account for 48 percent of the senior management pipeline. And on Jan. 1, RBC will install its first female chairman—and the first female chairman of any major chartered bank in Canada. Kathleen Taylor, a former CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, has been an independent director on RBC's board for 12 years. Her election as chairman was announced in late August.

Taylor's appointment ups the ante for other signatories of the Catalyst Accord, a call to action in which RBC and at least a dozen other major companies in Canada have committed to increasing the percentage of women on their boards. (RBC already surpasses the group's goal of 25 percent female representation on corporate boards by 2017. Five of its 18 board members are women.)

Signing the accord was a natural extension of the "soft goals" on staff diversity that RBC began articulating more than a decade ago, Fukakusa says.

"To us it's voluntary," she says, "but what we believe is that if it gets measured, it gets acted on."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.