By Hailey Eisen
In 2017, Rebecca Ehrlich hit a major career milestone: her first Vice President role at Scotiabank. That same week, two of her three high school-aged children received mental health diagnoses.
“I had this incredibly demanding assignment and was often working under tight timelines at work, and at the same time I had to do all this research to find the support and treatment my kids needed,” recalls Rebecca. “Some people in my life actually expected I would take a leave from work, but knowing myself, I knew being busy at work would be a good distraction from my worries at home.”
She credits her leadership team and the bank’s support — allowing her to work whenever and wherever she was able — with her ability to navigate that difficult time in her life. “No one gives you a playbook to support your family when they’re struggling, and often it takes a lot of time and energy to find the right tools and resources,” she says. “Watching their resilience has made me more understanding of others going through similar struggles and the impact great support can really have. I always want to be able to provide that support from a leadership perspective.”
This wasn’t the first obstacle Rebecca faced during her more than 20-year career in financial services. “I’ve had a visual disability since I was six, and it’s always made things extra challenging.” From not being able to spend extended periods of time looking at a screen to needing to find alternate ways to look at presentations and documents, Rebecca has had to adjust her work accordingly. “When things are projected on a screen I have to go up close to see them, which can be awkward.”
But Rebecca’s own struggles haven’t stopped her — they’ve made her a more empathetic and better leader. She’s had the opportunity to work on a number of large transformational projects which involved bringing various groups together, with an emphasis on people and what each individual can bring to the table. This is what really gets Rebecca excited. She’s committed to understanding the perspectives individuals bring to the table and making sure they’re heard.
“By recognizing people’s differences and the challenges and disadvantages they may face as a result, we are better able to support them through their career journey.”
Now with over 14 years at Scotiabank, Rebecca has had a number of roles in a variety of business lines — from risk, audit, and security, to information and data management, to the development of strategic opportunities. In July, she started her current role as Vice President, Financial Crimes Risk Management, and in early 2021 Rebecca joined Scotiabank’s Employment Equity Committee, which allows her to consult on strategies around the equitable representation of People with Disabilities at the bank by amplifying their voices, reducing barriers, and elevating opportunities for improvement.
One of the big focuses of the committee this year is intersectionality, a term first introduced in 1989 by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to explain how Black women experience overlapping layers of discrimination on account of their race and gender. Today, the term has grown to represent how each of us holds an individual range of identities — such as race, disability, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and more — some conferring advantages, with others resulting in disadvantages. This multifaceted understanding of identity is encouraged at Scotiabank, because it enables individuals to bring their whole selves to work — and that’s when inclusion happens.
“By recognizing people’s differences and the challenges and disadvantages they may face as a result,” explains Rebecca, “we are better able to support them through their career journey.”
Sharing her personal experiences, she says, often allows others to open up to her and share about themselves and their experiences and struggles. “As a leader you often want to problem solve for others, to step in and find solutions, but sometimes the best thing you can do is to listen, validate their emotions, understand their needs, and then work together to take action.”
Understanding that no two people will ever have the same experience, Rebecca says the key to creating more inclusive workplaces is making these connections. “I always make time for one-on-one meetings where I welcome others to share information in a safe environment,” she says.
“I love the complex problem-solving side of business, but even more important to me is the impact I have with people — making them feel included, empowered, successful and happy.”
Helping others is something Rebecca has been passionate about for a long time. In fact, when she was applying to university, Rebecca says she was torn between a career in mental health and one in business. Unable to settle on one focus, she opted for a double major in Psychology and Economics. While she went on to pursue a career in business and has worked in the financial services sector for 20 years, she says her greatest passion is still people.
“I love the complex problem-solving side of business, but even more important to me is the impact I have with people — making them feel included, empowered, successful and happy,” says Rebecca.
She’s also found a way to connect her work-life with her personal passion of fitness and wellness. Having always relied on exercise as a way to balance her own mental health and well being, she recently became certified as a group fitness instructor to share her passion with others. Now she hosts morning and evening virtual fitness classes with her team at work. “It’s been a great way for us to come together while we’ve all been away from the office.”
Beyond the workplace, Rebecca works as a parent engagement volunteer with Lumenus, a non-profit organization that provides families with mental health, developmental, autism and early years intervention.
“My family is very fortunate and privileged, and I know not everyone has the same opportunities we’ve had to access support,” she says. “There were times, even still, when I felt helpless, heartbroken, and alone and so I wanted to help others navigate these challenges and contribute and make a difference in a real way.”