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.
Royal Bank of Canada
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 speak-
ing 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.
Lydia Mallett was a professor at the University of Michigan Business
School teaching collective bargaining, organizational behavior and human
resources until she had a change of heart. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in
psychology, a master’s degree in labor/industrial relations, and both master’s
and Ph.D.’s in social psychology from Michigan State University, Mallett
decided it was time to get some real-world experience outside of a text book.
“I had no experience, and here I am, talking to students in the business school, and
they wanted to know what happens in the real world—and I didn’t know,” says Mallett, now
the vice president of staffing and diversity at Tyco International.
The Detroit native has had plenty of real-world experience since leaving academia. Prior to joining Tyco in
2004, she was the chief diversity officer for General Mills (No. 29 in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for
Diversity®) in Minneapolis. She also worked at a number of consulting firms in Chicago.
She says the business case for diversity at Tyco centers around helping people understand how diversity
fosters innovation and increases productivity.
“We are making good progress and we’re on our way, so I’m very proud of the work we have been doing,”
she says. “From my experience in this field, the most important thing is senior-management commitment, and
we have that in spades.”
Mallett grew up in a family that valued diversity; her parents were active in the civil-rights movement in
Outside of work, Mallett said she is involved in a number of organizations that focus on empowering
women. “It’s an interest and a passion of mine that people are given the opportunity to reach their potential
and that barriers are knocked down that get in the way,” she says. SAM ALI
© 2010 DIVERSIT YINC
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