Carolina Parra is the Vice President of Corporate and Commercial Risk at Scotiabank Chile. She’s also a mother, wife, and adamant advocate for the value of diversity, recognizing that when a diverse group of talented individuals is heard, incredible things can happen for both business and culture.
By Shelley White
Carolina Parra is an executive at one of Chile’s banks. She’s also a wife and mother to a 7-year-old daughter. But whether Carolina’s in the boardroom or at home, she makes it clear which role comes first.
“Balancing is hard, but I’m a wife and mother first and that’s my priority and there’s no discussion about that,” says Carolina, Vice President of Corporate and Commercial risk at Scotiabank Chile. “Building a family takes teamwork and my husband is my teammate. He is a husband and father first. Our family is central to what we do and it is a balancing act to ensure that one or both of us is always in our daughter’s life.”
Growing up in Bogota, Colombia as the eldest of two daughters, Carolina says her upbringing had a huge impact on her career aspirations and future success.
“Both my parents worked when we were growing up and had successful careers – my dad in business and my mother as a dentist,” she says. “Seeing their passion for their work was what inspired me to focus on studying and challenge myself, making sure I could reach whatever goal I wanted.”
Watching her parents successfully balance rewarding careers and family life was an important influence on Carolina’s life. “They ensured we would always spend time together at the end of the day to share our activities and celebrate whatever we had accomplished,” she says. “That really was the basis for what my family is today.”
After completing her industrial engineering degree at university in Bogota and a stint in consulting, Carolina found herself drawn to the world of commercial banking. She says she always liked the financial side and enjoyed numbers. Over the next two decades, Carolina expanded her expertise, working in different areas of banking as well as several different countries, including Colombia, Puerto Rico, Chile and Canada. She says her experiences enhanced her appreciation for diverse cultures, as well as the need to understand context when entering a new environment.
“Each culture has its wonderful sides, and its quirks,” she says. “The first thing you need to learn is that each culture is shaped by what the people have lived through in the past, and you need to understand, respect and enjoy that.”
In addition to leading a team of 60 people as a vice president at Scotiabank Chile, Carolina is also a proud member of Chile’s diversity and inclusion council because “that’s the world’s reality now,” she says. “Attracting and retaining talent is key to our success and, by definition, the talent we attract is diverse. Failing to attract or retain that talent isn’t an option. Diversity provides such a variety of perspectives, knowledge and experiences and it reflects our customer base.”
“Attracting and retaining talent is key to our success and, by definition, the talent we attract is diverse. Failing to attract or retain that talent isn’t an option. Diversity provides such a variety of perspectives, knowledge and experiences and it reflects our customer base.”
To promote diversity at Scotiabank Chile, the council has created an internal communications campaign to educate the workforce on the benefits of diversity and inclusion, as well as hosting multicultural lunches with staff to celebrate the different cultural backgrounds of employees. The council also recently launched an initiative to recruit more people with disabilities.
“At Scotiabank, we’re all working to create awareness that there’s value to diversity, that we need to cherish and create that shift in culture to challenge our unconscious bias and create that inclusive environment,” says Carolina.
She notes that women can undercut their own progress by not “raising their hand” when it comes to promotion opportunities. That’s why she believes it’s important for senior management to help identify women who are ready for career advancement.
Coaching can also be a powerful tool to help talented women progress in the business world. “It’s that constant feedback to employees to focus on how they can improve, how they can expand their influence and improve their technical skills,” says Carolina.
For women who want to excel in their chosen industry, Carolina says her first advice is always, find what you love and do it very well.
“You have to love it, you have to own it and show people that you are good at it,” she says. “The second piece of advice is make your voice heard. In a discussion, raise your hand and speak up. The third piece of advice is in order to advance and be a leader, you need to learn to coach and develop other people, because that speaks highly of how much of a leader you can be.”
When she isn’t leading her team or coaching the next generation at Scotiabank Chile, Carolina’s focus is on spending her leisure time with her family, in activities like swimming and playing tennis.
She hopes to raise her daughter with the same confidence that she grew up with, and the knowledge that it’s possible to have both a family and a fulfilling career.
“Family has to be the priority in my world,” she reiterates firmly. “If it’s not, I’m only making a living, I’m not making a life. Life is what matters in the end.”