By Shelley White
For Naomi Shaw, gender inclusion is about more than simply counting how many women work at an organization.
“For me, inclusion means an environment where every employee feels valued for what they bring to the table,” she says. “People can feel comfortable to be themselves, and feel that they can contribute to their maximum and perform at their best.”
As senior vice-president of human resources for international banking at Scotiabank, Naomi leads a passionate team that is committed to promoting gender inclusion, a key strategic focus for Scotiabank’s international banking division. It’s a commitment to equality that benefits employees and the organization as a whole.
“If your organization has a reputation for having an inclusive workforce, people will come knocking on your door and you will attract the best talent,” she notes.
Naomi became aware of the need to further promote gender inclusion when she began visiting Scotiabank’s Latin American countries as part of the bank’s international banking team.
“I would be sitting and meeting with the senior management teams in those countries and I’d often be the only woman at the table,” she says. “I thought that was such a contrast to what I had seen here in Canada.”
Naomi wondered, “Are we tapping into the broader talent pool, both internally and externally?” It sparked a discussion with the international country heads about unconscious bias—the idea that everyone has biases against different groups that they may not be aware of.
Through informal discussions with women in Scotiabank’s international offices, Naomi was able to learn about some of the challenges they have experienced in their careers. Many of the challenges were based on cultural expectations in their home countries—ideas that women are responsible for the family and men are responsible for working.
For example, one female employee recounted: “I have kids, but my career is important to me too. If something is happening and the team is asked to work late, my boss will say, ‘You’ve got kids, don’t feel like you have to stay, you can go home.’ But my boss wouldn’t say that to my male counterparts.”
As more stories were shared, the awareness of unconscious bias grew which led to a commitment by Scotiabank’s international banking division to make gender inclusion a priority.
Scotiabank CEOs from Mexico, Colombia and Chile recently took part in an International Banking Inclusion Panel at the new Scotiabank Centre in Toronto, where they reflected on their experiences as leaders and why they believe it is important to continue building a culture of inclusion at Scotiabank. More than 300 employees attended the event, which was moderated in Spanish so panelists were speaking their native tongue, with real-time translation for English speakers.
Naomi, as facilitator of the panel, says she was humbled by the participants’ honesty and willingness to be so open.
“For the international CEOs to do this panel, I think it was incredibly powerful,” she says. “They wanted to show people that they felt this was important.”
Scotiabank Colombia’s CEO and country head, Santiago Perdomo, spoke about what he and his team are doing to ensure women have equal opportunity to excel.
“We are working on having more flexible schedules, and we have also initiated talks with women where they express their concerns,” he said. “We are continuing to have these talks because these conversations are very important.”
Santiago also noted that women in his organization are gaining more and more prominent positions.
“In the steering committee, we have two women out of eleven members,” he said. “In the next level of report, we have 37 per cent women in leadership positions. These are women with vast experience who are adding so much value to the organization.”
Another panelist was Enrique Zorrilla, Scotiabank Mexico’s senior vice-president and country head. Enrique pointed out that diversity in an organization should be looked upon as an opportunity.
“In talking about diversity and inclusion, we have to recognize that because of someone’s origin, because of their experiences, because of their gender, they may have attributes that are valuable to our organization, and we need them in order to be better as a team,” he said. It’s an attitude that seems to be working—in 2015, Scotiabank Mexico was awarded first place from Mexico’s Great Place to Work Institute in the gender equality category.
To keep the momentum going, a Scotiabank inclusion council with representation from each of the Latin American countries meets monthly to share best practices and experiences.
Naomi says she is optimistic that gender inclusion will continue to improve in the international banking community as more people understand that it’s not just about equality, but good business too.
“If we have a truly inclusive culture and people feel like it doesn’t matter what gender you are, what colour you are, what school you went to, then we can attract the top talent and it would be a true meritocracy,” she says.
“What could be better for an organization than having the best talent and the most high-performing teams?”