As a young girl, Shirlie Delacherois was aware of her Aboriginal heritage, but didn’t fully appreciate its value until much later in life. It was after a 20-year career at Scotiabank that Shirlie had the opportunity to continue the bank’s long history of supporting Aboriginal Peoples — by stepping into the role of Senior Aboriginal Recruitment Consultant. She has been connecting Aboriginal Canadians to career opportunities at Scotiabank ever since.
By Shelley White
Shirlie Delacherois remembers the day she discovered her passion for Aboriginal recruiting.
While working as a manager with Scotiabank’s Western Canada Recruitment Team, Shirlie’s boss suggested she go to Inclusion Works, a national Aboriginal career fair in Saskatoon. Shirlie was managing the Scotiabank booth at the fair when a young Aboriginal woman shyly approached.
“She was staring down at her shoes, not sure if she should talk to us,” recalls Shirlie, now Senior Aboriginal Recruitment Consultant for Scotiabank. “I asked if she had any questions about a career in banking, and I remember the look on her face when she said, ‘Oh no, I could never work in the bank. I don’t have a degree.’”
Shirlie says she recognized a little bit of herself in this young woman.
“I took the opportunity to share my story with her and explained that people who work at Scotiabank come from many diverse backgrounds with their own unique skills and education. If you are determined enough, you can do anything.”
It felt good to share her story with someone and inspire them, says Shirlie, a feeling she’d not felt before. “And from there I wanted to do more. It’s rewarding to give somebody the same opportunity that someone gave to me.”
Shirlie grew up with her mom and two sisters in Vernon, B.C., located in the province’s lush Okanagan Valley. Her paternal grandmother was a member of the nearby Westbank First Nation (WFN), but had given up her land and Indigenous status when she married. Because of that, Shirlie didn’t know much about her Aboriginal heritage growing up.
“To be honest, I’m still learning about my community and my culture,” says Shirlie, who now lives in Salmon Arm, B.C., which is about 1.5 hours from WFN. “I grew up my whole life not knowing where I belonged or what it means to even be First Nations. It’s only been in the last few years that my dad has started to open up about his life being a young native boy.”
As a high school student, Shirlie excelled in her studies, winning scholarships that would have helped pay for post-secondary education. But she says she lacked the confidence or support to take advantage of those opportunities.
“I grew up my whole life not knowing where I belonged or what it means to even be First Nations.”
In 1994, she applied for a position as a bank teller with a Scotiabank branch in Penticton, B.C., and was thrilled when she got the job.
“I still remember asking my first supervisor, an amazing woman named Stella, ‘Why did you hire me?’ I was young, and nothing on my résumé shouted banking by any stretch. Stella said, ‘I had a gut feeling, and it’s never been wrong yet.’ She believed in me even when I didn’t.”
That was the beginning of a nearly 25-year career at Scotiabank. Shirlie worked her way through various roles at the Penticton branch and in Williams Lake, B.C., and then jumped at the chance to move into a recruiting role.
During that fateful experience at the Inclusion Works career fair in Saskatoon, Shirlie met Scotiabank’s National Director for Aboriginal Financial Services. “She had been putting together a case for Scotiabank to have an Aboriginal recruiter, and so my timing to meet her was perfect,” says Shirlie.
In 2013, Scotiabank created the role of Senior Aboriginal Recruitment Consultant for Shirlie, with the goal of attracting and hiring more Aboriginal talent for the organization. In her role, Shirlie travels to events, organizations and schools across Canada to promote Scotiabank as an employer of choice within Aboriginal communities. She also runs a microsite for job candidates who want to self-identify as Aboriginal, giving them one-on-one recruitment support such as résumé reviewing and mock interviewing. She co-runs a diversity internship program to provide meaningful employment opportunities at Scotiabank for Aboriginal people.
Scotiabank has long been recognized for its positive relationship with Canada’s Aboriginal community, including receiving the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) Gold standing from the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB). Some of the Bank’s initiatives include providing scholarships and bursaries to Aboriginal students through the INDSPIRE program and sponsoring Aboriginal youth sports teams and cultural events. Shirlie says Scotiabank understands that building trust is important when working with Aboriginal communities.
“Sponsorships and philanthropy are part of that process,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to have our employees in the community actively participating in the events, growing that relationship organically.”
Shirlie points out that the Aboriginal population is the fastest-growing demographic in all of Canada. “They really are going to be the next leaders in our country and a huge stimulus to our economy going forward,” she says.
At the same time, Shirlie notes that Aboriginal students can face barriers on the road to their careers. The high school graduation rate of Aboriginal youth in Canada is lower than non-Aboriginals (though it is rising). “We do presentations to the broader Scotiabank recruitment teams once or twice a year as a reminder of the struggles and the barriers that Aboriginal Peoples face,” says Shirlie. “A candidate’s resume may not look the same as some of the other candidates in the pool, but you have to consider transferable skills.”
When it comes to the advancement of Aboriginal employees within an organization, companies can reduce barriers by creating mentorship programs and employee resource groups (ERGs), says Shirlie. Organizations should also learn as much as they can about their local Aboriginal community by researching and volunteering.
“I can’t really put into words what it’s meant to me to have this opportunity to gain this knowledge and meet these people, to hear their stories.”
“Sometimes, it can be something as simple as displaying local Aboriginal art in the workplace, which can really help an employee feel welcome and included,” says Shirlie, “Or even providing Aboriginal employees a place to smudge.” (Smudging is a spiritual cleansing ceremony involving burning sacred plants, practiced by some Aboriginal peoples.) In the Toronto headquarters of Scotiabank, you’ll find a Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Legacy Room — a space where non-indigenous and indigenous people can talk together about their different experiences and further the aim of reconciliation.
If an employee feels safe and appreciated, they’re more likely to stay, notes Shirlie. They’re also more likely to refer family or friends to work for a company, or perhaps become a customer. “It’s good business sense,” she says.
Of all her responsibilities as Senior Aboriginal Recruitment Consultant, Shirlie says the best part has been travelling and meeting Aboriginal people across the country.
“I owe a lot of my reconnecting to my past and culture to my job,” she says. “I can’t really put into words what it’s meant to me to have this opportunity to gain this knowledge and meet these people, to hear their stories.”
She’s continuing to explore her roots and getting to know Westbank First Nation better.
“It’s a beautiful community – I love where we’re from,” she says. “In 1992, my dad moved back, and slowly the rest of our family started to move back and get involved in the community. I think I’m one of the only ones that doesn’t live there yet. But I’m getting closer,” she adds with a laugh.