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Mike Henry’s advice to other men? Take action, get involved, and treat everyone equally—qualities he practises every day as a founder of Scotiabank’s HeForShe movement.


By Shelley White

Don’t try to tell Mike Henry that gender equality is a women’s issue.

“How can you have a conversation about gender inclusion when you’re only including half the population?” says the Executive Vice President, Retail Payments, Deposits and Unsecured Lending for Scotiabank.

“It just doesn’t work if you’re not including men, especially when you acknowledge that most of the power in the corporate world is in the hands of men. And with that power comes the responsibility for those men to make inclusiveness a priority and a reality.”

Mike is leading the charge for gender equality at Scotiabank as a founder of the company’s HeForShe movement. HeForShe is a solidarity campaign originally created by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (known as UN Women). The movement was launched in September 2014, with UN Women putting out the call to mobilize the first 100,000 men in the campaign, a goal they reached within just three days. Prominent supporters have included U.S. President Barack Obama, actors Patrick Stewart and Matt Damon, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“HeForShe is a global effort to engage men and boys in removing the social and cultural barriers that prevent women and girls from achieving their potential,” says Mike. “At Scotiabank, HeForShe is a reflection of that. It’s a group created to help the men here at the Bank promote fairness and reinforce action on gender inclusion.”

Mike says the idea to bring HeForShe to Scotiabank came out of a conversation he had with a colleague, Maria Theofilaktidis, who is the Executive Champion for Scotiabank Women. They were talking about the progress the Bank was making in the area of gender inclusion and came to the conclusion that more work needed to be done.

Related: Here’s how Scotiabank is committed to the LGBT+ community 

“We kept making comments about the Bank needing to do more and then we stopped and looked at ourselves and said, ‘Wait a minute, we are the Bank, and we are the people that should take some action here’.”

They decided that HeForShe was the perfect movement to express what they were looking to do. The organization, which is grounded in the idea that gender equality is an issue that affects all people, promotes three main goals: act, reach and share.

“The most important thing is take action, so we educate men on ways they can get involved,” says Mike.

Positive actions can be simple – like making sure everyone’s voice is heard during a meeting – or they could involve more systemic things, like seeing how a company can make it easier for women to transition in and out of maternity leave.

Beyond actions, the “reach” and “share” parts of HeForShe are about looking for opportunities to broaden the audience and spread the message far and wide.

“For example, I look for chances to be a champion for gender equality, whether that’s speaking on a panel or being part of a Town Hall meeting,” he says. “It’s about taking the time to tell people about the action you’ve taken, the intent being to create a safe environment for others to then follow in that path and do the same thing.” Mike has even made a public commitment as an executive at Scotiabank to never participate in panel discussions where there aren’t women on the panel.

“We kept making comments about the Bank needing to do more and then we stopped and looked at ourselves and said, ‘Wait a minute, we are the Bank, and we are the people that should take some action here’.”

While gender equality is about fairness and ensuring everyone is treated equally, Mike points out that it also makes good sense from a practical perspective.

“We know that it’s really important to create an environment where all of our employees can achieve their full potential, and when they do that, we benefit directly as a business because we’ve got more diversity of thought, we’re a better representative of the communities that we serve and the outcome is that the business does better,” he says.

He notes that it’s important to recognize that everyone has bias. “It’s baked into our DNA and we’re a product of our environment,” he says. “The point is to become aware of that bias and make it safe to call it out and address it.”

Mike says his commitment to gender equality was partly sparked by the many positive female influences in his life.

“My mother balanced working and raising me, I have a sister who is an entrepreneur who I see doing things every day that are just incredibly impressive,” he says. “I have two daughters of my three kids, and then I’ve had the benefit over the last two and a half decades of having many, many women that were bosses or peers that I learned a tremendous amount from.”

Through his work with HeForShe, Mike says he hopes to inspire more men to realize that gender equality has benefits for all. It’s a movement whose time has come, he adds, and that means engaging everyone in the process.

“It’s the 21st century and it’s crazy that we can’t have an environment where everyone is equally represented and equally valued and heard,” he says. “If we’re going to make progress, this has to be about all of us, all the time.”