by Shelley White
Sherri Pierce remembers the first time she understood the positive impact she could have on others, just by being herself.
She was at an awards gala run by Out on Bay Street (now called Start Proud), an organization that facilitates the professional development of LGBTQ2S+ students as they transition from school to career. Sherri was there with her Scotiabank colleagues, and they were being approached by young people attending the event who had questions about opportunities in the financial industry.
“I remember very distinctly one girl tapping me on the shoulder and asking, ‘Hey, what company are you with?’ I said, ‘I’m with Scotiabank, I work as a manager there.’ And she said, ‘I didn’t think I would show up to an event like this and see myself in someone in the professional world,’” recalls Sherri, Manager, Operational Effectiveness at Scotiabank.
“That really took me by surprise. I thought I was just coming to a nice dinner. But just by showing up, I had affected someone’s life. It was really eye-opening for me,” Sherri says. “It’s not just about me and the people who have come before me. It’s about the people who come after.”
It wasn’t long ago that Sherri was a student herself. Growing up in Brampton, she initially thought she would pursue a career as a lawyer. But she was also attracted to the financial industry, and upon graduation from the University of Toronto, “I walked around the downtown core, handing out my resume to a bunch of financial institutions,” she says. “Scotiabank welcomed me in. So here I am, eight years later.”
“I was surrounded by a community of people who were from different walks of life, but we had something in common.”
In her role, Sherri works in the Business Service Centre where she provides a breadth of services for business banking clients. She says she loves her job because no two days are the same.
“Because it’s project-based, I’m always working on different things with different departments — commercial banking, regulatory, audit. I also get a lot of exposure at the VP and director level, so it’s definitely the perfect career-building role,” she says.
Sherri says her experiences as an out gay woman in the financial industry have been positive, especially once she joined Scotiabank’s Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG).
“I always felt very supported, and I think that support really took off when I joined the ERG, because then I was surrounded by a community of people who were from different walks of life, but we had something in common,” she says. “It’s a safe space. It’s a place where you can go to ask questions of our experienced leaders.”
Now, Sherri has taken on a role of co-chair of the Toronto chapter of the Pride ERG, feeling it’s her turn to “carry the baton a little ways further for the next person.”
She also recently enrolled in a program through Pride at Work Canada, an organization that helps employers build workplaces that celebrate all employees regardless of gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation. THRIVE is a four-month virtual program to develop the next generation of queer and trans managers through virtual learning modules and mentorship.
Through THRIVE, Sherri was paired with Val Walls, Director of Sales Effectiveness at Scotiabank, and Sherri says the conversations they’ve had have been invaluable for her career development.
“The program has really forced me to think about my future and not just come to work and think about what I had to do that day,” she says. “I’ve seen the growth, I’ve learned so much, and it’s only been four months.”
“In being more me, I’ve been able to find a sense of confidence to speak up more, to not be so worried about what other people think.”
Sherri says her own coming out six years ago was “tough,” especially because she had to do it a number of times.
“It was definitely difficult, building up the courage to come out to my friends from university, the girls that I play basketball with and wondering, how are they going to react? It’s the fear of the unknown,” she says. “Then, coming out to my parents, the fear of disappointing them. And my big brother. It was a stressful and scary time.”
For the most part, Sherri says coming out “went okay.” She did receive the support that she needed, though it took some people a little longer than others to come around.
“Now, I’m in a place where I’m unapologetically gay, it’s who I am. I’ll show up with my suit and tie, I’m not trying to fit a mold or wear a skirt or heels, that’s just not me,” she says. “And in being more me, I’ve been able to find a sense of confidence to speak up more, to not be so worried about what other people think.”
Sherri says that the Pride festivities that come around each June always mean a lot to her. Going to Pride for the first time in Toronto’s gay village neighbourhood felt like “the unshackling of myself,” she says.
“I remember the first time walking down College Street and then turning down Church Street and it was like the air changed. Everyone was having the greatest time just being themselves. It was freedom.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pride Toronto 2021 will be a virtual celebration, and Sherri anticipates that the Scotiabank Pride ERG will take part in the Virtual Parade as they did last year. The rest of the day will be enjoyed at home with family, she says.
“You have a seat at the table for a reason. So, use your voice and stand up and speak. Be heard, be seen, be you.”
Though Pride is a meaningful and celebratory time for the LGBTQ2S+ community, Sherri points out that it’s also important for organizations to take the lead year-round in creating an environment that is safe, inclusive, and where people feel they belong. She says one of the best ways for people to be allies in the workplace is for those with privilege to use their platforms to support their colleagues in the queer and trans community.
“Use your platforms to stand up for them, stand beside them, or stand behind them, to support them in some way,” she says.
As for LGBTQ2S+ people looking to advance in their careers, Sherri has this advice: own your seat in the room.
“You have a seat at the table for a reason,” she says. “So, use your voice and stand up and speak. Be heard, be seen, be you.
Sherri says the idea of “owning your voice” is something that she’s learned and developed, especially over the last four months in the THRIVE program.
“I’ve always been a shy, slightly reserved person, and I’ve been encouraged by my mentor, Val, and my senior leadership to speak up,” she says. “Now, I’m able to lead meetings on my own, and that’s because I’m owning my voice and really speaking up on behalf of what I believe in.”
Sherri says she hopes to take on even more active leadership roles in future, so she can pass along her confidence and her knowledge to the next generation.
“That’s what I have in the back of my mind,” she says. “How am I going to influence who comes next?”