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Make their voices heard: How the capital markets sector can benefit from diversity

Marian Lawson

Marian Lawson, Executive Vice-President of Global Financial Institutions and Transaction Banking with Scotiabank, believes that corporate championing of diversity is good for not only minorities, but for businesses as well. Here she explains how not only bringing new perspectives to the forefront, but making those perspectives heard, benefits the capital markets sector. 

By Shelley White


When it comes to diversity in the workplace, it’s not just about bringing disparate voices to the table, says Marian Lawson, Scotiabank’s Executive Vice President of Global Financial Institutions and Transaction Banking. It’s about making sure that those voices are being heard.

As co-chair of the Global Banking and Markets Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, Marian is passionate about championing diversity in Canada’s capital markets sector. She notes that a diverse and inclusive culture can help enable high-performance teams in a competitive industry like hers.

“Different backgrounds bring in different experiences, and while you might not reach a different conclusion, you’re considering diverse perspectives,” she says. “Studies show more diverse groups lead to better business results.”

In fact, a 2015 study by McKinsey & Company called Diversity Matters found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. The study also found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have better-than-average financial returns. (To prepare the report, McKinsey examined proprietary data sets for 366 public companies in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Latin America, across a range of industries.)

“Studies show more diverse groups lead to better business results”

“The other thing that’s really important is we want to be a reflection of our community, our customers and our other stakeholders,” adds Marian. “Having a diverse pool of employees allows us to better understand our customers’ needs, which lead to better outcomes.”

To make sure those diverse voices are being heard, it’s critical to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable being their “authentic self,” she says.

“If you’re trying to pretend to be something else, you’re not bringing your best ideas, so I think we need to create environments where people are comfortable being themselves, whatever that self happens to be,” she says. “Whether it’s gender, sexuality or race, people need to feel the environment is welcoming to them.”

Marian is particularly committed to promoting gender diversity in her industry. A long-time leader in corporate and investment banking and global capital markets, in 2016 she was named one of Canada’s most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) and received the Women in Capital Markets (WCM) leadership award.

The lack of representation of women in senior corporate roles is a Canada-wide issue. A 2016 report from the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) — a coalition of provincial securities regulators — found that only 12% of all Board seats at the 677 companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) are held by women.

Because there are significant gaps in the level of female representation in Canadian capital markets, Marian says it’s one of their Steering Committee’s top priorities.

“What we’re trying to do is figure out how to move the dial with the numbers of women in our organization,” she says.

Marian says one of the issues is that the capital markets sector has traditionally been a very male-dominated area. “I think the perception of the business was one that was very competitive, very cutthroat — movies like The Wolf of Wall Street don’t help us at all,” she notes.

“The challenge is to find enough qualified and interested women for these jobs. It is like anything – it is the fear of the unknown,” says Marian. “To that end, one of our top priorities is to show as many young women as possible what a day in the life actually looks like. This way, when they make their choice about their career, it is with a better understanding of the role and the work.”

She points to organizations like WCM that do outreach to girls in high school to tell them: “These are really interesting careers and you shouldn’t self-select out of these.” At Scotiabank, Marian says they invite female university students to spend the day and shadow women on the job.

“I think I do it because it’s the right thing to do, and I’ve met so many great women and some of them just needed someone to give them 30 minutes”

To ensure talented women aren’t getting passed over when they do apply for jobs, Marian says the committee has recommended all managers go through unconscious bias training to ensure equitable hiring decisions are being made. “Because it is unconscious, you don’t know you’re doing it,” she says. “We’re trying to make people much more aware of when they do have a bias.”

It’s also important to ensure women feel that they can have a job in capital markets and a family too, says Marian.

“Another initiative our committee has come up with is a program for people on maternity and paternity leave, so it’s making sure people feel supported while they are away,” she says. As part of the program, the group asked fellow employees to become mentors to people on leave. “We launched that a couple weeks ago and the response has been phenomenal in terms of people wanting to be mentors.”

As a mentor and role model herself, Marian says helping talented young women succeed is very important to her.

“I think I do it because it’s the right thing to do, and I’ve met so many great women and some of them just needed someone to give them 30 minutes,” she says. “It’s giving them the push, giving them the encouragement.”

When offering guidance to promising young talent, Marian says she emphasizes that women should never be afraid to ask for what they want.

“If you don’t ask for it, no one’s going to give it to you,” she says. “And I always say: you don’t have to have every skill in the world to do a job. Sometimes it’s about attitude and your ability to learn.”