How this Scotiabank executive is responding to the pandemic’s impact on the gender gap.

Nicole German Scotiabank

by Shelley White


Like most working parents across the country, Nicole German has encountered ups and downs adjusting to the new normal of life during a pandemic. As a busy mom, she says balancing work and family can be challenging at the best of times, but the pandemic has taken it to another level. 

“I would say it’s really an ebb and flow,” says Nicole, VP & Head Global, Enterprise Digital Marketing & Growth at Scotiabank and Advisory Board member of The Scotiabank Women Initiative. “On one hand, during the lockdown, I’m not driving to sports or having to race home after work. On the other hand, there are moments where I’m consumed with work and trying to juggle online learning and the emotional needs of my children. I also have older parents, and I want to make sure that they have access to all the resources they need and are in good health and spirits.”

To keep things on an even keel, Nicole says she consciously focuses on mental and physical well-being for herself and her family. “We’re trying to get outside as much as possible, and also making sure that we’re reaching out and making those connections with family and friends via video conferencing.”

While it’s likely that anyone can relate to feeling challenged during a global pandemic, it’s become increasingly clear that women have been particularly impacted during this unprecedented time. 

“We are seeing a disproportionate amount of extra load falling to women,” says Nicole. “If you have young people at home and older people you are looking after, it’s that idea of the ‘sandwich generation,’ and that’s especially compounded when women are working too.” 

Nicole says she’s been “astounded” to see how women have lost ground from an employment perspective during the pandemic. She points to a recent analysis by the National Women’s Law Center that found while women outnumbered men in the U.S. workforce a year ago, they accounted for 100 per cent of job losses in the country in December 2020. 

In Canada, the data has followed similar patterns. Global non-profit organization Catalyst pointed out that although unemployment for parents was near-normal by September 2020, 70 per cent more mothers — compared with 24 per cent of fathers — were working fewer than half of the hours they worked in February 2020.

“It’s definitely taking us many steps back, for sure. But on the flip side, it’s the opportunity for leaders and organizations to shine the light on statistics like this and determine how they are going to transform.” 

Nicole considers the lasting impact to women COVID-19 may cause. “It’s definitely taking us many steps back, for sure,” she says. “But on the flip side, it’s the opportunity for leaders and organizations to shine the light on statistics like this and determine how they are going to transform to support women to ensure we remove these inequities and challenges for women.” 

One of the ways Scotiabank is supporting business women through the pandemic is through the Digital Hub created as part of The Scotiabank Women Initiative. Launched two years ago, The Scotiabank Women Initiative is a comprehensive program helping women across Canada take their businesses to the next level through unbiased access to capital, financial services, education, advice, and mentorship.

The Digital Hub is an online platform and resource centre to help women-led businesses transform and thrive during these challenging times. Resources include everything from articles, stories, templates and training on topics like how to build a website and transact through e-commerce to how to use digital channels to promote and market your business. The Hub was developed in collaboration with some of the heaviest hitters in the tech world, including LinkedIn, Shopify, Facebook, and Google. 

Nicole says the idea for the Digital Hub was sparked pre-pandemic. Gillian Riley, President and CEO, Tangerine Bank, and executive sponsor and founder of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, engaged Nicole to create a digital toolkit that would help women entrepreneurs prosper during the challenging times of the pandemic. As a member of The Scotiabank Women Initiative Advisory Board, Nicole embraced the task at hand. 

“When COVID-19 hit, we thought about how we could take that online at scale for women-led businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic” she says. “How can we help women business leaders pivot to use digital as a channel to promote or fulfill their products and services? And so the idea was born.”

While going digital has, for some businesses, been the only alternative during an era of pandemic lockdowns, Nicole says this kind of digital transformation could really benefit many businesses long after the pandemic is over. “The thing about digital is that once you’re set up, it can be very efficient. It can lower your cost to sell or promote your product.”

“I think the first step for organizations, whether you’re big or small, is really doing an internal reflection.”

With International Women’s Day approaching on March 8, Nicole says this year’s theme — Choose to Challenge — resonates with her. 

“To me, it’s about voicing when you see something is off or not right,” she says. “I think it’s about making the choice to step forward for something that you believe in more proactively with a louder voice.” 

While Nicole says that in her career, she has been fortunate to have been supported along her path, she knows that is not always the experience of women building their careers. For example, an August 2020 analysis by Catalyst showed that men hold over 90 per cent of C-level executive roles in Canada. There is clearly more work to be done, Nicole says. 

“I think the first step for organizations, whether you’re big or small, is really doing an internal reflection. Look at your data on women in the workforce. You might think that you’re doing OK, but you don’t really know until you look at the data,” she says.

“The second part is about transparency. No matter where you sit in terms of the data, share that internally among your organization and then offer transparency to the public to say, ‘This is how we’re doing.’ The next step is agreeing to move the needle. And what are the steps that you need to take to do that?” 

Nicole says she hopes that in future, “we won’t need benchmarks and targets.” But in order to get there, our perceptions about what “work” is may need to change. 

“We’re seeing through the pandemic that in some cases women are having to leave the workforce because they’re having to care for kids in the home, or they have lesser pay than their spouse. But maybe once we’re in the ‘next normal,’ it will be different, maybe it won’t be a ‘nine to five anymore. Maybe there needs to be more flexibility, or better access to affordable childcare.”

Nicole says she’s curious to see how things will change with her sons’ generation. 

“I’m raising two incredible young men and I know they are advocates for gender equality because they are my biggest supporters, whether it’s at home or at work. I’m curious to see how it plays out for my guys, because no matter how you cut it, it’s a challenge to juggle.”


How this Spin Master executive embraces a digital-first marketing strategy.

Laura Henderson

When Laura Henderson was a kid, she had big expectations about what she wanted to do with her life. “I was the ultimate performer,” she says. “I was going to be a pop star.” Though she didn’t make it to centre stage, she did end up in a fairly incredible role — one her three-year-old self would no doubt be proud of. 

“I joke that I’m about to be the coolest person in my kid’s world,” Laura says of her position as EVP, Marketing at Spin Master. If you’re not familiar with the company, you may recognize the many brands it owns and represents: Paw Patrol, Hatchimals, Kinetic Sand, Gund, and many others. Since its inception in 1994, the award-winning Canadian company has come to dominate the world of children’s entertainment. 

Today, it’s Laura’s job to keep Spin Master’s brands top-of-mind with pint-sized and parental consumers, something that’s been a new  challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“COVID came at a time when the marketing world was going through a digital transformation,” she says, noting kids were already starting to spend more time on screens instead of in toy aisles. “It means we’ve had to pivot and get more creative about where and when we show up.” As opposed to creating one ad that would air on live TV, for example, she says marketing has become about combining the message and medium in creative new ways, delivering hundreds of contextually-relevant ads across many new screens: tablets, smartphones, and streaming services. “You can deliver experiences that are more relevant. Digital is real-time, it’s global, personalized, responsive, and it has a lower cost of delivery, so you can test and learn faster.” 

“My job as a marketer at its core hasn’t changed, but the need to be strategic is greater than ever.”

Digital-first may be a unique way to approach marketing, especially for those at larger organizations that still prioritize traditional campaigns, but it’s one Laura came to passionately embrace in her previous roles at Mondelēz and BuzzFeed. At the former, she helped transform the way the candy and consumer packaged goods company created content and promoted their products through platforms like Facebook and Google. At the latter, she helped popularize brands like Tasty and Worth It. 

“This role is really a combination of my past two lives,” she says. “Spin Master has the creativity and entrepreneurship of a BuzzFeed, but the scale of a Mondelēz. We have the heart of a startup, and the brain of a big company. My job as a marketer at its core hasn’t changed, but the need to be strategic is greater than ever.”

Her advice to marketers who are looking to cut through the clutter and tap into their digital audiences is to first define how marketing is tied to their business. “Is it share, sales, growth? What’s your metric for success?” From there, figure out who your core consumer is and meet them where they are. You can then align your goals to overcome challenges as they come up, much like Spin Master has done during COVID.

Laura also says it’s important for leaders to be empathetic to their teams’ needs and to realize pivoting to new approaches and tactics may not be as straightforward for some employees as others –– especially given the new challenges we all face while working from home. 

“I think it’s important as a leader to be vulnerable. I have a two-year-old at home, and I make a real effort to share that experience and to speak honestly about the challenges I face both with members of my team and senior executives. It’s important for me to set a tone that no one is going to be perfectly OK all of the time; and that’s not just for the people who have kids. Everyone is dealing with the impacts of COVID in different ways depending on their circumstances. We’re focused on getting through this together by supporting one another.”

“I realized what might feel like a detour on the career path to some may actually be something to open my mind. Having a healthy sense of openness and curiosity can propel you further.”

It’s also key for leaders to emphasize their own learning no matter how senior they get, and to be honest about what they don’t know. There is value in learning with your team. 

“Early in my career, I always wanted to present the perfect buttoned-up picture. Midway through, I realized that instead of pretending I had all of the answers, it was more productive to ask the right questions and come from a place of curiosity to help solve the problem. Today, I set up a team by saying, ‘you are the experts, and I am here to learn from you and make you as successful as possible.’ Throughout my career, even as I took lateral roles or positions in new industries where I had little knowledge, I realized what might feel like a detour on the career path to some may actually be something to open my mind. Having a healthy sense of openness and curiosity can propel you further.”

Lastly, like your favourite PAW Patrol characters Chase or Skye, figure out what your strengths are and lean into them. “Focus less on those things you need to improve upon and more on finding opportunities to apply what you’re good at. This will help you multiply your impact, and more fluidly move into unexpected roles versus following a rigid career path. It’s great for you and great for your company.”

5 ways to build the right network to grow your business in new markets.

Women on video call

You’ve heard the saying: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. 

When expanding your business internationally, that bit of advice certainly understates the importance of market research and an informed strategy — but it’s also impossible to overstate the benefits that your network can offer.

From opening doors and building trust, to overcoming language barriers and understanding cultural norms, an international network is essential for expanding globally. The right contacts can provide invaluable local market knowledge and connections, helping you to avoid costly mistakes, gain competitive advantages, and achieve your business goals more quickly.  

How do you tap into all these benefits? According to Jennifer Cooke, the corporate lead for EDC’s Women in Trade strategy — a role focused specifically on helping more women entrepreneurs export to grow their business — the first step is to get started

“You have to be deliberate. You can’t just wait for it to come to you,” advises Jennifer. “You need to be very strategic about building networks for the various needs you have in your business. And starting early is a good thing.”

To ensure success from there, she offers five key tips for building a global exporting network. 

Tailor your networks.

While your support networks are key for your mental health (especially amidst a pandemic), when it comes to growing your business, you need specific business networks. For global growth, that’s even more important as you’ll be faced with roadblocks and opportunities that are unique to exporting, as well as to the market you’re entering. 

That means the kind of network you need can change depending on the market and your strategy for entering it. Are there language barriers to overcome, or other cultural considerations? Are you selling directly to consumers through ecommerce, or working with an agent, or distributor? Start with research to understand what contacts would be beneficial to your needs and goals, then work on fostering those connections. 

“One of the first things we did was establish partnerships with sales brokers who had experience with natural products in the markets we were targeting,” says Shelby Taylor, founder and CEO of Chickapea, a line of healthy pastas made with organic chickpeas and lentils. “This helped us to learn about the markets and the differences from our home market, while benefiting from existing relationships. By taking this approach, we were able to better understand the investment required and reduce our risk with unknown retailers.”

“You can often tap into your current customers, suppliers, and service providers (from your lawyer to your shipping partner) for advice, new connections, or even a foot in the door.”

Start with your connections at home. 

While you do need a specific network, you don’t have to start from scratch. Look at who’s in your business network, and see if you can leverage relationships with individuals that you know and trust in a new way. You can often tap into your current customers, suppliers, and service providers (from your lawyer to your shipping partner) for advice, new connections, or even a foot in the door. 

Servicing existing customers in a new market is an easier way to begin growing, so pay special attention to clients who are operating internationally. You may also be able to reduce risk and access bigger and better opportunities by joining forces with other like-minded local businesses to create a broader and more robust offering. To help make those connections (and many more), you can look to organizations with the specific mandate of helping Canadian businesses, such as industry and trade associations, chambers of commerce, and Export Development Canada

EDC is dedicated to helping Canadian companies of all sizes succeed on the world stage. They’re international risk experts and can equip you with the tools you need — the trade knowledge, financial solutions, equity, insurance, and connections — to grow your business with confidence.

Jump on organized networking opportunities.  

Even if you’re just starting to explore your international ambitions, a trade show can help establish new and valuable connections. If you’re export ready, with a market in mind and a strategy in hand, there are also several trade missions offered by federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as trade associations. Visiting your target market is the best approach, but with COVID-19 still impacting travel, virtual events and even virtual trade missions are taking over, and still offer value.  

Rather than going in with the expectation that you’ll win contracts right away, consider it an opportunity to gain market intelligence and build your strategic network. You may even find a supportive network of fellow exporters, says Dannah Davies, founder of Sweetsmith Candy Co. based in Strathmore, Alberta. The producer of handmade toffees and brittles credits exporting events with helping her on her growth journey.   

“I have found the other businesses in the export community to be incredibly helpful,” says Dannah, “and I am grateful for all of the new friends made through export events as we continue to encourage each other and share experiences with exporting.”

Do your due diligence. 

When establishing relationships with international business partners, due diligence is a critical step. You’ll avoid potentially costly surprises down the road by investing time in a careful vetting process up front — and that means doing more than a Google search and social sniff. 

Validate that they have solid credit and are reputable. Look at their environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) practices to ensure you’re working with a business and leadership team that shares the same values. You can get references from their customers or from their suppliers, and depending on the type of partnership, it’s not uncommon to ask them for their financial statements to ensure they’re a solid business.

Another great place to start is EDC’s Company Insight — a free online tool that lets you search and vet companies based on data that EDC experts rely on every day. And if you’re export ready, the Trade Commissioner Service can connect you with a trade commissioner in more than 160 cities worldwide, who can help you validate potential local business partners. 

Finding new customers, intermediaries, business partners, and international opportunities hinges on successful global networking.”

Invest in the build. 

Can you get lucky and find an international buyer quickly? Yes, but more often than not, it takes time, resources, and a sustained effort to build the right network for exporting. You may need to visit the local market — possibly multiple times and over multiple years — to gain the cumulative knowledge and relationship capital that will be critical to your success. 

Shamira Jaffer is the founder and president of Signifi Solutions, which provides hardware and software for the automated retail industry, from advanced vending machines to smart storage. To get their kiosks operating in 40+ countries around the world, Shamira has invested heavily in her export network, from participating in trade missions through the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, to working with the Trade Commissioner Service to establish contacts in each of the European markets she now operates in. 

Having dedicated expertise in foreign markets through vetted agents has been a key competitive advantage. “Signifi has built its business with networking and forming relations, either with customers or other business alliances,” Shamira explains. “We have four trusted agents in Europe and two agents in the US that have come from referrals. This approach allowed for a careful selection of agents who can be trusted with business goals aligned with Signifi.”

Building a network takes strategy, time, and resources — but the efforts are worth it. Finding new customers, intermediaries, business partners, and international opportunities hinges on successful global networking. And remember, it’s never too early to start.