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Her Success, Her Way

Scotiabank has tapped into its own “women of influence” to honour those whose dedication to helping their communities goes beyond providing access to financial services.

By: Allyssia Alleyne | Photography by: Milvio Attili

Last March, in honour of the countdown to the 100th International Women’s Day in 2011, Scotiabank launched “Her Success, Her Way” – a yearlong celebration of the accomplishments of the bank’s inspiring and diverse women employees around the world. Collectively, their grassroots impact on communities in the group’s home market and around the world has proved inspirational for all involved.

Each month, two women – one from Canada and one from among the bank’s other 50 or so active countries – are given $1,000 to donate to a charity of their  choice. Those who nominate them for the award are also given $1,000 to donate. Winners are selected from hundreds of nominations by a panel of judges.

One of the primary goals of the campaign is to prove that, despite society’s focus on professional achievement, success has a broader definition – and especially for women.

“What really struck me about the name [“Her Success, Her Way”] was the fact that, from all the research one does about women, women have a much broader definition of success,” said Sylvia Chrominska, head of global human resources and  communications at Scotiabank. Chrominska said she was struck by how often these successes extend outside of the workplace and into the  community.

Isabel Guzman, the bank’s international manager of commercial relations in Costa Rica, was honoured largely for her community  involvement. A Scotiabank employee for the past 15 years, Guzman actively volunteers with the Asociación pro Comedor Infantil de Cartago, an
organization founded by her mother that provides hot lunches to impoverished children in her hometown of Cartago. For many of the children, this is the only hot meal they’ll get in a day.

Her reason for helping is simple. “If we can share a little bit more, the world won’t be so sad,” she said.

But some of the women recognized had more personal motives behind their community work.

Josephina Gonzalez’s life changed forever when her son Gerardo Arteago, then seven, was diagnosed with leukemia. Though doctors predicted that Gerardo had only a 30 per cent chance of survival, Gonzalez, a senior manager and ombudsperson in El Salvador, was sure that he would survive. Her optimism never faltered, even as she juggled taking care of him with the responsibilities of raising her other two children and working fulltime.

After seeing poorer parents in the waiting rooms of the children’s hospital, Gonzalez was moved to act. She met parents who could not afford to feed themselves while their children were in the hospital. Others could hardly afford the cost to travel from their homes to get care for their child.

Inspired, Gonzalez launched the Asociación de Padres de Familia, a charity that offers resources and support – from psychological counselling for parents to toys for patients – to help impoverished families of children with cancer. Though her son is now healthy, she remains actively involved with the organization she founded.

“A lot of women get involved with these sorts of activities,” said Guzman. Even if they aren’t recognized for it.

Though winner Pamela Douglas also contributes to her community, it was her position as a trailblazer that caught the attention of the judges. The third child in a family of 10 in St. Catherine, Jamaica, Douglas became the first person from her small farming community to pass the exams  required to get into high school. She followed through to get her high school certification, even though it meant living away from her immediate family for several years. During the six months that she lived at home, Douglas took a 6 a.m. bus to be on time for her 8 a.m. classes. She later went on to graduate from one of the country’s top universities.

“I realized at an early age that education was my key to success,” said Douglas.

The triumph over these types of personal challenges is exactly what Scotiabank wanted to shine a light on with the campaign.

“If you look at the individual stories of the women who have been recognized with this program, all of them have met and overcome some kind of challenge,” said Chrominska.

Young Kyu Rim, the Scotiabank country head in South Korea and the first woman to head a bank in her country, had to contend with a far more subtle challenge: cultural norms. Though she had no trouble rising through the ranks at the bank, she acknowledges that, while things
are slowly changing, finance is very much a man’s world.

“The finance industry is one of the most conservative industries,” said Young. “It was pretty much dominated by men in the past.”

But when she was selected as a winner for Her Success, Her Way, her inbox was flooded with  congratulatory emails from male employees.

“Interestingly, I didn’t hear any type of comments from female officers.”

Though their accomplishments are diverse, it’s the qualities that these women share that brought them to Scotiabank’s attention. Along with obvious  determination, commitment and perseverance, as well as a demonstrated record of personal success, many of the women involved are dedicated to making things easier for the coming generations.

Another shared hope is that the programme will put a face to the many women making a difference in the lives of others, even as they work tirelessly to achieve their own goals.

Young believed that her being recognized would be especially impactful in her native country. She hopes that her success will wipe out the misconception that women can’t take on executive  positions in finance and encourage women to set goals beyond the glass ceiling.

“We all have the skills, but we have to make sure we have the  confidence,” said Young.

Though most of the winners had not received formal recognition for their successes in the past, all were diligently  working at their jobs and in their communities long before being acknowledged. All say that they will continue to do so long after the prize money  has been spent and the 100th annual International Women’s Day passes in March 2011.