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A proven case: championing diversity enables innovation

The importance of innovation in business is undisputed. Tapping into diversity as a driver of innovation is a newer concept — but it is already proving its worth. Dubie Cunningham, vice-president of innovation at the Digital Factory at Scotiabank, shares why and how diversity has been a key driver of success.

By Shelley White

Diversity in the workplace isn’t just a good idea, says Dubie Cunningham. It’s a crucial part of being a successful business in the digital age.

As vice president of innovation at the Digital Factory at Scotiabank, Dubie’s mandate is to help accelerate the Bank’s digital strategy and reimagine the customer experience in an era where technology has become ubiquitous. Advances in FinTechs (financial technology) in areas like mobile payments, wearables, and artificial intelligence are promising to change the way the world does their banking.

“Our customers have come to expect a completely different experience than in the past,” says Dubie. “The accessibility of technology has dramatically evolved, and our customers’ expectations about how they want to interact with the bank have completely changed.”

Diversity is an important part of Scotiabank’s digital strategy, says Dubie, because it’s key to reimagining the banking experience for this new age and beyond.

“It’s important for us to think broadly outside traditional banking and what a traditional banker is thought to be,” she says. “In the last couple of years, trying to tap into those kinds of opportunities makes diversity particularly important and very, very exciting.”

At Dubie’s workplace, the concept of the traditional office has been “blown up,” she says. There are no offices or cubicles. Instead, people work at picnic-type tables, and in the corners of the room, where white boards filled with colourful sticky notes invite collaboration and open dialogue. It’s an “agile” workplace — a concept pioneered in the Silicon Valley where employees have the freedom to work where they want, when they want.

“If our customers are diverse and we want to serve them well, we need to be as diverse as they are.”

This forward-thinking workplace style is part of the way the bank is challenging traditional notions of what a bank is all about and encouraging diversity in the people who work there.

The Digital Factory team also encourages diversity of thought by bringing people from different aspects of the business to work together in one dynamic space. From software developers to marketers, from data scientists to security, everyone has a seat at the table.

“The way we work attracts a real variety of people,” she says. “A lot of folks don’t want to be in a constrained, overly formal environment. It takes barriers away and everyone’s value and contribution becomes equally important. We see a lot of the by-products of this in the people that are coming to work for us.”

Dubie points out that a diverse workforce — whether in gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation or skill set —reflects an increasingly diverse customer base.

“Because we are a global bank, I think it’s really about aligning with our customers. If our customers are diverse and we want to serve them well, we need to be as diverse as they are. Really understanding and reflecting their values means we can be more successful,” she says.

Partnerships with global innovation hubs, accelerators, incubators and university research programs have been another part of encouraging diversity at Scotiabank’s Digital Factory, bringing in fresh ideas from a new generation of out-of-the-box thinkers.

“Opening our doors to students has been key in helping us better understand people’s perspectives through their eyes and their skills,” says Dubie.

To succeed in our rapidly changing world, businesses need to constantly be thinking about different methodologies to encourage diversity, she adds.

“Unless we continue to embrace diversity and leverage it and build on it, we will be at a disadvantage, so I think of it as a business imperative to make it a priority.”


Dubie Cunningham shares her biggest inspiration, and why IT needs more women

Gender equality is a particular passion for Dubie, who’s long been inspired by her pioneering mother, an architect in an era when not many women were in that field.

“My mom was the only female architect in the sixties working on the CN Tower, and in her graduating class, she was one of only a couple women, so she’s very inspiring to me,” Dubie says. “She showed me what is possible and I’m very proud of what that generation has done and what my generation has done.”

As the mother of one boy and three girls, Dubie says she has great faith in what the next generation will accomplish, but she notes that when it comes to gender equality in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), there is more work to be done.

“One thing we’ve noticed in IT (information technology) is we’ve got a problem because not as many women or girls are going into science and math,” says Dubie. “Think about the damage that will do to the diversity pipeline, and we really need it. We need diversity as we build our solutions.”

To encourage women to pursue STEM-related careers, Dubie says her team collaborates with partners like Ladies Learning Code, going into universities and making presentations to encourage women to pursue careers in IT.