Kiruba Sankar: Creating Positive Impact Through Supplier Diversity

Kiruba Sankar, RBC

Kiruba Sankar is a highly regarded leader in the Canadian supplier diversity space. As a Global Leader, CSR on RBC’s Global Procurement team, he oversees the development of strategy and execution for RBC’s Global Supplier Diversity program, which is responsible for procurement practices and community involvement activities in their supply chain. Working with his global team of procurement professionals, Kiruba supports the organization’s overall supplier diversity vision and goals. 

Across the WBE Community, Kiruba is known for his passionate commitment to the advancement of women-owned businesses, ensuring opportunities are made available to gain entrance to corporate and government supply chains, and education and support through networking and mentorship to ensure success. Kiruba has been honoured as WBE Canada’s Supplier Diversity Leader of the Year in 2017 and 2019, true testament to his commitment and dedication to WBE Canada and its community.

Silvia Pencak, President of WBE Canada, sat down with Kiruba to talk about RBC’s supplier diversity program and his advocacy for supplier diversity across RBC Global Procurement and externally with stakeholders and suppliers. 

Silvia: If you could briefly introduce your organization, what would you say? 

Kiruba: RBC is a global financial institution with a purpose-driven, principles-led approach to delivering leading performance, and creating value for our clients and communities. Our purpose inspires us every day to bring our best and use our imagination and insights to build a better future for our clients and communities.

For more than 150 years, we’ve gone where our clients have gone – expanding across Canada, the United States, and to select global markets. Today, we hold strong market positions in five business segments, with 16 million clients who continue to put their trust in RBC. 

We are one of Canada’s biggest banks, and among the largest in the world based on market capitalization, with 86,000+ full and part-time employees, serving 16 million clients in Canada, the U.S. and 34 other countries. RBC is one of North America’s leading diversified financial services companies, and provides personal and commercial banking, wealth management, insurance, investor services and capital markets products and services on a global basis.

Silvia: Tell us more about you. What is your role in the organization and what brought you to a career in diversity and inclusion? 

Kiruba: I joined RBC Global Procurement in 2010 and since 2017 have been the Global Lead for Corporate Social Responsibility at RBC Global Procurement. My responsibility includes developing the strategy and program execution plan for CSR. That includes our global supplier diversity program, responsible procurement practices, and community involvement activities in supply chain. Working with our global procurement professionals I support the organization’s overall supplier diversity vision and goals. I’m a proud advocate for supplier diversity across RBC Global Procurement, and externally with stakeholders and suppliers. Before this role, I was responsible for the IT Professional Service Category supporting Technology & Operations across all businesses at RBC.  

I believe diversity and inclusion is at the core of innovation and means you are drawing on the talents of everyone – that gives you a competitive edge and is the socially responsible thing to do. I’ve been advocating for supplier diversity in an active way since 2012, having conversations within my network of IT suppliers. I volunteered to mentor certified diverse suppliers and also supported the person who was the then lead of RBC’s CSR program through a reciprocal mentorship initiative.  My passion and past global experience was noticed by my leadership team and as I was given with this opportunity to lead and expand RBC supplier diversity program beyond Canada.   

Silvia: What do you see as the most important and most progressive trend in your industry? 

Kiruba: I was originally drawn to Canada because the importance we place as a country on diversity aligns with my own values. When I joined RBC in 2010 I decided to chip away at the idea that only large suppliers were a good fit for large corporations. In the financial industry there are thousands of suppliers involved directly and many more involved through the supply chain. All major banks are investing heavily on technology and they are constantly looking for innovation in improving financial services to their clients.     

Silvia: RBC has a strong commitment to supplier diversity. What opportunities do you create for Canadian women owned businesses? 

Kiruba: RBC is an inaugural member of WBE Canada and has been an active sponsor since its inception in 2009. RBC has sponsored, and our employees have engaged in several WBE Canada organized events including the annual conference, recognition of women entrepreneurs, even WBE Canada’s first Trade Show for Canadian WBE’s in Toronto, 2019. 

Other initiatives have included:

  • Participation in a case study focusing on RBC’s corporate policy and executive support, which helps other companies launch their own supplier diversity programs, including WBEs in their procurement opportunities
  • Participation in and attendance at WBE Canada outreach events across Canada
  • Transformation of our flagship Supplier Diversity Mentorship Program into the new Enhanced Supplier Development Program, offering business development advice to diverse suppliers to help them grow their business and focus workshops to connect WBEs and diverse Suppliers with RBC category subject matter experts to understand the need and opportunities
  • Expansion of RBC’s supplier diversity program outside Canada, promoting inclusive supply chain opportunities to indigenous, women, visible minority/minority, LGBT+, disabled and veteran-owned businesses in the United States and the United Kingdom
  • Sponsorship of Canada-US trade missions in Baltimore, Tampa and Atlanta to help Canadian certified diverse suppliers to build their profile and establish relationships to help cultivate U.S. Corporate business opportunities
  • Sponsorship of WBE Canada’s first Trade Show for WBEs in Toronto in 2019

Silvia: You are a highly regarded leader in Canadian supplier diversity space acknowledged by multiple councils, including WBE Canada with your recognition as  2017 and 2019 Supplier Diversity Leader. What message do you have for other procurement leaders across Canada who are not yet pursuing supplier diversity? 

Kiruba: It was a great honour to be recognized as a leader in Canadian supplier diversity, and I’m very thankful to the many amazing colleagues at RBC who have supported the success of our program. And I want to use the opportunity to encourage other procurement leaders in Canada to support supplier diversity in their value chain. For all procurement leaders I’d encourage them to create equal opportunity for all qualified suppliers including diverse suppliers.

Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice. That’s why organizations like WBE Canada and other champions are to be acknowledged for their commitment to making sustainable change.   By harnessing everyone’s talents we not only create an inclusive culture but foster innovation and generate economic prosperity.

I educate suppliers about supplier diversity and its benefits, and I’m always encouraging large suppliers to not only support supplier diversity, but to become Corporate Sponsors of WBE, as well as the other Councils. 

As a regular and long-standing corporate table host for marketplace meetings, I promote RBC’s supplier diversity program to expand opportunities for women-owned suppliers. On an ongoing basis, I network and nurture relationships with new and existing diverse suppliers to improve and enhance the supplier diversity ecosystem. 

I’d like to thank and ask corporate members of the supplier diversity program to continue their support of women entrepreneurs, for managers to recruit women employees on to their teams, and for business leaders to mentor and support our incredible Canadian women entrepreneurs.

Silvia: How has being a member of WBE Canada helped your organization and/or procurement department? 

Kiruba: Women are involved in 85% of purchasing decisions, and are bringing quality products and services to the marketplace at an accelerated pace. Despite this, they receive a small fraction of large contracts. That’s a lost opportunity.

It’s important for Canada to mirror the growth of supplier diversity spreading across multinational corporations in the U.S. and U.K. Over 95% of Fortune 500 companies have supplier diversity programs that target historically underutilized businesses, including women-owned.  It’s the right strategy – it expands buyers’ choice and boosts innovation, competitiveness and marketplace knowledge. 

Diversity and inclusion is a core value at RBC, supplier diversity and inclusion business practices are core to our business strategy and central to our commitment to helping communities prosper.   That’s why our valued partnership with WBE Canada is vital to who we are as an organization and informs how we interact with suppliers. Being a corporate member of WBE Canada helps RBC Procurement to identify certified women owned business to include in our sourcing process. 

Silvia: What is the best piece of advice you would like to give Canadian women owned businesses who want to work with large corporate supply chains? 

Kiruba: Analyze and think before you decide to do business with large corporate supply chains, working with large corporations means longer cycle time to win a deal. You need to be ready to invest time and resources with dedication and patience. 

Silvia: How do you continue to develop and grow as a leader?

Kiruba: I admire the great minds of other leaders and learn from them. I always try to identify and learn good habits and practices from entrepreneurs and leaders. Helping entrepreneurs to identify opportunities and help them to create positive impact in our community is incredibly important to me.    

Silvia: What do you hope your legacy will be? 

Kiruba: Proven leader who demonstrated creating positive impact in local community through global connections. 

Silvia: Thank you, Kiruba for your time, but most importantly your contribution to supplier diversity in Canada. On behalf of WBE Canada Community I wish you success in the upcoming years.