How Gillian Riley became the head of Canada’s leading digital bank — and is using her influence to help women entrepreneurs

Gillian Riley was named President and CEO of Tangerine, a subsidiary of Scotiabank, in December, 2018. In just a few months she’s already made her mark, focusing not only on customer growth but also spearheading an initiative to help women-led businesses in Canada thrive. Gillian shares how she rose through the ranks, what has made her a successful leader, and how The Scotiabank Women Initiative is taking a unique approach to make a real difference.


By Shelley White



Ask Gillian Riley, President and CEO of Tangerine — Canada’s leading digital bank — what is the secret to her success, and she’ll point to an attribute she’s had since she was a kid on the soccer field.

“I have a lot of passion,” says Gillian. “I grew up in a family that was very active physically, so I did a lot of sports and it was a really big part of my life. I played soccer at a very competitive level and I figured out how to work within a team, and how to lose gracefully, which is always important.”

The passion Gillian brought to her athletic pursuits growing up continued into her adult life and powered her career to great heights.

“I think passion carries you a long way. You have to love what you do and feel really good about it and feel passionate about bringing that to work every single day,” she says. “That’s been a really important part of my success — I love what I do and I bring that to the office every day.”

With an economics degree at Western University and an MBA from the University of Hartford Business School under her belt, Gillian joined Scotiabank in 1994 in the bank’s commercial banking training program. Over the years, she’s taken on diverse roles at Scotiabank, from corporate banking to human resources to mortgages to wealth management. Gillian says she relished the opportunity to step out of her comfort zone.

“It really tests your leadership to be able to go into a new environment and figure out how to lead without knowing everything, and how to ask for help,” she says. “You learn how to ask the right questions and be curious and how to be impactful without knowing every single detail.”

A question Gillian thinks all leaders need to be more open to is how to ask for feedback. “It’s absolutely critical to become a better leader, but I think a lot of people are afraid to ask for feedback,” she says. “People think they’re asking for it, but they’re not doing it in the right way.”

One good approach is to ask: “What’s one thing I could do better?” says Gillian. “It’s a question that leads to things you can work on.”


I think passion carries you a long way. You have to love what you do and feel really good about it and feel passionate about bringing that to work every single day.


In her role at Tangerine, which was acquired by Scotiabank from ING Group in 2012, Gillian is now leading the charge in growing the bank’s customer base. She’s also spearheading an initiative to help women-led businesses in Canada thrive and grow, as executive sponsor of The Scotiabank Women Initiative.

Gillian says the program was first developed about a year ago to address some of the obstacles she had seen while working with small- and medium-sized businesses in the commercial banking space.

“Only four per cent of venture capital debt in Canada is going to women-owned business,” says Gillian. “Yet 47 per cent of businesses in Canada are owned or partly-owned by women. So clearly something in the ecosystem isn’t working to support women in business.”

Gillian points out that a lot of research has been done about the unconscious bias women can face when trying to raise venture capital (VC). Research published in the Harvard Business Review in 2017 found that women and men are asked different questions by VCs and it can affect whether they get funding. When analyzing how VCs viewed male vs. female candidates, a trio of Swedish researchers found that while men were deemed “young and promising,” women were seen as “young, but inexperienced.” While a man was seen as “cautious, sensible and level-headed, women were labelled “too cautious and does not dare.”

This kind of bias can create “discouraged borrowers,” says Gillian, and keep female entrepreneurs from growing their businesses.

“We did research to understand what was causing women entrepreneurs not to have as much success and feeling that they couldn’t get the things they needed to be successful,” she says. “So we launched a comprehensive program that’s more than just providing capital. It’s also about education and mentorship to advance women-led businesses.”

The Scotiabank Women Initiative is based on three pillars, says Gillian. First, Scotiabank helps women get access to the capital they need. A team of adjudicators specially trained in unconscious bias handles credit applications received through The Scotiabank Women Initiative, and Scotiabank recently announced a partnership with Disruption Ventures, Canada’s first private female-founded venture fund for women. Secondly, an advisory board from the bank provides mentorship to women entrepreneurs by way of one-on-one and small group sessions. The third pillar provides workshops dubbed Un-Mentorships Boot Camps™ — half-day sessions to bust myths around entrepreneurship and help women develop the skills and knowledge to grow their businesses. “It’s about looking at things in new ways, whether it be around compliance or finance or technology,” she says.

There’s also a networking component to help women in business connect with both potential mentors and fellow entrepreneurs. “We all want someone to share our thoughts with and to bounce ideas off of,” Gillian says. “Sometimes it’s issues like how to manage finance, how to manage HR issues, or how to get better work/life balance.”

Throughout her own career journey, Gillian says that maintaining a good work/life balance has been a priority. She works hard, but she also makes sure to take the time to play hard.

“I have a farm near Collingwood, so I do long bike rides,” she says. “I ski up there in the winter and I play golf. I also spend a lot of time with my three kids and my husband — that’s really important for me.”

Gillian’s advice for young women hoping to emulate her success? “Be passionate about what you do, and try to make a difference every day.”

Meet Laura Burget and Connie Lo, Founders of NIU BODY

Laura Burget and Connie Lo’s vision for NIU BODY, a 100% natural, certified cruelty-free and vegan skincare company, arose out of frustration with the lack of affordable and natural beauty products on the market. The two best friends were eager to utilize their backgrounds in business and engineering to launch NIU BODY in March of 2017. As a brand that seeks to support women and help them recognize their worth, beauty, and purpose, NIU BODY is becoming the golden standard of natural and vegan skincare. 




My first job ever was…

Laura – As a lifeguard at the local YMCA.

Connie – At the age of 13 as a café barista in downtown Toronto. I had a blast learning to make fancy delicious caffeinated drinks, chatting with regular and new customers, and almost-but-not-quite mastering basic latte art.


Entrepreneurship in one word is…

L – Creativity.

C – Rewarding.


My boldest move to date was…

L – Leaving a six figure job in software sales to pursue my passion with NIU BODY full time.

C – Leaving a great job and committing to NIU BODY full-time. I was terrified, but also very excited. There’s a saying that some of the scariest moments in life are the most rewarding, and I wholeheartedly agree.


I surprise people when I tell them…

L – That I’m an introvert! I definitely need my alone time to recharge, but that’s something most people wouldn’t necessarily guess about me.

C – That I’m in my mid-twenties. Many people assume that you need to be much older to run a company. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need decades of experience, an MBA under your belt, or insane connections to start a business!


My best advice to people starting out in business is…

L – Get comfortable with failing and learn how to sell. Don’t worry about having it all figured out at the start – it’s far better to launch and let the market guide you!

C – To just start! There will never be a perfect time, perfect idea, perfect team, or perfect number in your savings account.


If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…

L – Spend more time outside while the sun is up! Something that I find I am constantly craving.

C – Wake up slowly (ideally with meditation, a solid workout, cuddles with my dog, and a mindful breakfast), rather than my usual rushed mornings.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…

L – I’m 1/4 Chinese!

C – that I’m deathly afraid of spiders. Even the thought of one is making me squeamish!


My advice for entrepreneurs who are starting out is…

L – Surround yourself with great partners and advocates of you and your business. These connections will serve you far more than you could imagine and will help to keep you sane.

C – Use your networks as much as possible. Reach out to those around you – you’ll be surprised how much they can help (or might know someone who can).


Having a co-founder is… 

L – CRUCIAL! I’ve run businesses alone in the past and have so much respect for entrepreneurs who can do this long-term. I really value having someone who I know is running towards the same vision.

C – The BEST thing ever. I can’t imagine being on this crazy journey without Laura by my side. Nothing beats being able to bounce ideas off of each other, working grueling hours until we’re both laughing deliriously, and sharing the amazing wins together.


I stay inspired by…

L – Listening to podcasts (like How I Built This) about entrepreneurs who I admire. Hearing their stories and struggles helps to keep things in perspective for me.

C – Chatting with friends and family, reading books from the never-ending stack by my bedside, and traveling.


My next step is…

L – Doubling our product line assortment and 10x our sales this year!

C – Tackling our first beauty show in LA!

Why the founder of the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network is mobilizing for gender equality

Sophia Jacob, an award-winning event planner and founder of three networking organizations, is working to see more women of colour in leadership positions, on boards, and in the C-suite across Canada. That’s why Sophia and her organization, the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network, are taking part in the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada campaign — joining their voices with those of other Canadian organizations to bring about positive change.



By Hailey Eisen




Six years ago, Sophia Jacob was working as a personal support worker when she decided it was time to make a career change. “There were cuts coming down the pipeline in healthcare, and I knew I had to get out,” she recalls.

As a single mother, she had decided to wait until her son was grown before looking toward her own career ambitions — and he was well on his way. With a passion for event planning and networking, Sophia leapt into her new career.

“The best way to establish myself in the events space was to throw an event,” Sophia says. “So that’s exactly what I did.”

Sophia chose a name, brought on some speakers, and hosted her first event with the Black Ottawa Business Network. “We had about 40 to 60 people show up — and we’ve managed to keep all of our events around that size, giving me the opportunity to really connect with everyone in attendance.”

The aim is to fulfill a need in the community: providing networking opportunities for business professionals and entrepreneurs looking to meet other like-minded individuals with whom they can do business, partner, or collaborate.  

Around the same time, Sophia launched her own business, Sophia J Events, for which she’s won awards as an event planner and marketing strategist. “As I grew as a professional, I realized I wasn’t seeing enough women of colour in leadership positions, and I wanted to make a difference in that area as well,” she recalls. That’s how her second initiative, The Ottawa Opportunities Network, was born.  

With both organizations hosting events and becoming more well-known within the Ottawa area, Sophia felt it was time to expand her reach. “I decided to launch the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network because I have a strong desire to see women of colour in leadership positions, on boards, and in the C-suite across this country,” she says.  

A main focus is on the younger generation, who Sophia believes needs to see women who look like them in positions of power and have role models they can look up to and turn to for support. “If you don’t see anyone like you in a position, how can you ever imagine yourself doing it?” she says.

Mentorship will be a big part of the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network, which is in its infancy right now. The plan is to establish a Mentorship Matters program which will connect women of colour in leadership roles with young women who will benefit from their guidance.


If you don’t see anyone like you in a position, how can you ever imagine yourself doing it?


“Mentorship is one the best tools you can have in your pocket,” says Sophia, whose own mentoring efforts are now second nature. “I’ve shared my own story many times and mentored many young women looking to make changes in their own careers.”

As the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network works toward building capacity and reaching out to other like-minded organizations, Sophia is thankful for the opportunity she’s had to join the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada campaign, built around the global conference being hosted in Vancouver this June. “This is a perfect opportunity for us to reach new audiences and to connect with other organizations doing great things for women,” she says.

Sophia has taken advantage of some of the events being held by the Mobilization in Ottawa — using them as an opportunity to connect with like-minded businesses and expand the reach of the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network. She has her own event in the works as well for the end of May, which she says will give women who can’t attend the conference in Vancouver a chance to still get involved.

“There are so many great opportunities to collaborate, connect, and communicate with others through this mobilization — and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be part of the conversation,” she says.   

She’s also quick to point out that the diversity conversation must include women of colour, and Sophia’s committed to making this happen. “I became a mother when I was 18, and I didn’t get the opportunity to go to university or to network with other young professionals, or to follow my passion when it came to work,” Sophia says. But she did have the confidence and support to go after her dreams later in life.

While growth may be slow, Sophia says organically she’ll build the reach and capacity to take the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network to the next level, keeping in mind the mandate of meeting, connecting, and promoting women of colour who are looking to advance their careers as entrepreneurs, professionals, and community leaders. They’re active on social media and their website is in the works, and people are getting to know their name and — more importantly — their message.

“There are a host of reasons why black women are often underestimated and undervalued in their careers, and we want to change that and have more people looking at things through our lens.”  


To learn more about how you can join the Mobilization and take action for gender equality, visit their website at and join the conversation on Twitter with #WeDeliver2019.