As Director of Sales Effectiveness at Scotiabank, as well as lead champion for Scotiabank’s Toronto Pride Employee Resource Group, Val Walls is always asking herself: How can I touch, move, inspire and make a difference? She shares how she’s driving change — and creating an inclusive vision of LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Trans+) rights.
By Shelly White
For Val Walls, the energy at Toronto’s Pride Parade feels like “arriving at the top of the mountain.”
A long-time participant in Pride festivities, Val says she looks forward to experiencing the spirit of harmony and togetherness that permeates the event each year.
“The day feels like a hum of bees around a blooming cherry tree,” says Val of the annual Pride Parade, happening this year in Toronto on Sunday, June 24. “Sweet smells of food, music vibrating through your body, a patchwork blanket of sounds that fill your senses. As flags wave and people cheer, there is one common denominator — everyone is smiling and standing united.”
Val is Director of Sales Effectiveness at Scotiabank, a position that involves developing strategies to optimize Scotiabank’s sales force and coaching team members for higher levels of performance. She’s also lead champion for Scotiabank’s Toronto Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG), a role she took on because she believes that “if we want to drive change, we cannot just talk about it. We need to be the instrument of change.”
Scotiabank has a strong global diversity and inclusion strategy and a real commitment to support the LGBT+ community, says Val. “And to have that strategy come to life, it requires employee commitment. I am an openly gay woman, and to be a leader means to model leadership in and outside of one’s functional role.”
Val says Scotiabank’s Pride ERG has three objectives: to demonstrate Scotiabank’s support for the LGBT+ community, to create awareness of Scotiabank’s safe and inclusive work environment and to engage LGBT+ employees, customers and allies.
“We want to help allies have greater awareness as to what it means to march and stand in solidarity.”
This year, Scotiabank’s Pride Month campaign kicks off on June 1 with a celebration at ScotiaPlaza in Toronto for all employees and customers. Team members will march together in the Pride parade on the 24th, says Val — more members than ever before.
“Over 150 is our goal, and our ‘stretch’ goal is 300,” she says. “We want to help allies have greater awareness as to what it means to march and stand in solidarity.”
On a personal level, Val also walks in the Trans March with her wife and daughter to raise awareness about the rights of transgender people and the challenges they face. “We march because there’s so much more work to be done on that front,” she says. It’s taking place this year on Friday, June 22.
Another Pride highlight for Val is participating in the Dyke March, which is scheduled for Saturday, June 23. She recalls riding her motorcycle in past years “with enthusiasm, at the front of the line.” Val has participated in this parade multiple times, “and the energy of the crowd escalates as the roar of the bikes hits Yonge Street,” she says.
Val says that people sometimes ask her why we as Canadians still need to have conversations about LGBT+ rights. Some people assume that because we are in Canada, where same-sex marriage is legal, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people don’t have their rights infringed upon or deal with prejudice.
In answer, Val will share the story of what happened to her recently on the Toronto subway. She was reading emails on her mobile device and just as the subway doors opened, a man suddenly pushed her hard into the wall.
“He said, ‘You’re a freak. You’re not a man or a woman, you’re a freak,’” says Val, recalling the incident. “And then he ran off. As I picked myself up, I was shocked, but then I had deep sadness. You don’t think of these things occurring in 2018, but they do.”
For Val, Pride is about acknowledging how far we’ve come as a society in the last four decades and raising awareness of how much further we need to go.
“It’s about stepping forward and modelling, so you can build that confidence and pass over the reins.”
As a leader in both her roles at Scotiabank, Val says she has a mantra: T.M.I. M.A.D. It means: How can I touch, move, inspire and make a difference?
“It’s about stepping forward and modelling, so you can build that confidence and pass over the reins,” she says. “I’ve already seen it in nine months with our ERG — seeing people step forward, saying, ‘I’d like to learn more. What can I do to get involved?’”
Organizations can take steps to become more inclusive and respectful to LGBT+ employees by educating all staff on what LGBT+ means, says Val. “It’s about teaching employees the language and how to engage in respectful curiosity.”
Then, it’s important for organizations to establish internal LGBT+ mentors to assist in supporting team members, engage in conversations of differences and encourage deeper understanding. Additionally, LGBT+ team members should be involved in all forums and committees, to ensure their voice is heard. It’s also important to ensure there is a leadership track for young, talented LGBT+ employees, to ensure they end up in executive positions and sitting on boards.
Val notes that it’s critical that organizations consider intersectionality when developing LGBT+ strategies. Intersectionality is a sociological theory describing the multiple threats of discrimination an individual might face when their identity includes a number of minority classes, like gender, age, ethnicity and ability.
“It important to question — am I thinking in in a homogenous way or am I thinking inclusively?” says Val. “If I look around at the group that is within our ERG, how do they all identify? And why is it that I don’t have more allies here, or members of colour? And what stops employees from stepping forward and becoming more involved?”
Val says she envisions a future for Pride where the diverse LGBT+ community emerges as a stronger and more unified voice. In the more distant future, she envisions Pride becoming “a moment of reflection on a path we won’t repeat.”
In this scenario, all people can come together in solidarity, she says. “Future Pride becomes a time of true celebration of our human-to-human connection, moving away from our differences.”
Scotiabank is Canada’s international bank and a leading financial services provider in North America, Latin America, the Caribbean and Central America, and Asia-Pacific. Our culture of inclusion is the heart of our global community of Scotiabankers. It is a big part of the Bank’s success and what makes us a global employer of choice.