By Hailey Eisen
“Sometimes as a woman, you are seen, but your voice is not heard.” This experience, Audrey Tugwell Henry says, is not unique to her, but it’s something she’s had to contend with working in banking in Jamaica for most of her career.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the minority as a banking executive — but I’ve never been concerned or daunted by that. I focus on the task at hand and press towards achieving my goals. I make my voice heard,” she says.
Audrey came to her career in an unusual way. Starting out as a teacher of English literature and Phys-Ed in Montego Bay, Audrey loved working with young people, helping them focus on the results and outcomes of their hard work and physical activity. She likely would have remained a teacher if it hadn’t been so hard to find full-time work.
When her contract was coming to an end and the local school didn’t have any other teaching positions available, Audrey says her friend directed her toward a bank in town that was looking for a teller. “I assumed I would work in the bank until another teaching position came available. It was more of a chance than a calculated decision — but once I started the job, I knew it was where I wanted to be.”
Fast forward 34 years, and Audrey is now President & CEO of Scotia Group Jamaica Limited, and Senior Vice President of Caribbean North & Central. She’s responsible for the growth and profitable development of corporate, commercial and retail banking, insurance, and wealth management through a network of branches and subsidiary companies across Jamaica, as well as the North and Central Caribbean islands.
Most recently, Audrey and her team brought The Scotiabank Women Initiative (SWI) into Jamaica, supporting small business and commercial women clients.
In Jamaica, the program is aimed at advancing women-led and women-owned businesses. The three-pronged program includes access to capital (Scotia has committed to $3B Jamaican Dollars in funding over a three-year period), bespoke education, and advisory services and mentorship. SWI is expected to have a big impact on the island’s business ecosystem — the small business and commercial SWI program in Canada has already helped close to 7,000 participants to grow their business, further develop their business acumen, and hone their leadership skills.
“In the early days of my career, I had people — especially other women — support my professional growth and take chances on me. I was fortunate to be given opportunities that I raised my hand for, even when I didn’t tick all the boxes.”
“This launch is especially significant because in Jamaica, women are increasingly facing challenges when seeking funding for their businesses,” she says. “Having an initiative focused on women-led and women-run businesses will not just have commercial impact on the businesses themselves but will also translate to creating and strengthening women who will have a broader impact and can be part of decision making at various levels.”
For Audrey, education and mentorship have both been essential parts of her career advancement over the years. “In the early days of my career, I had people — especially other women — support my professional growth and take chances on me,” she recalls. “I was fortunate to be given opportunities that I raised my hand for, even when I didn’t tick all the boxes.”
And while her latest promotion to President & CEO felt like a natural transition — Audrey has nearly 20 years of experience at the executive level — it hasn’t always been easy. To get to where she’s at today, Audrey had to make a number of calculated decisions and moves.
“After working for a year-and-a-half as a bank teller, I realized that I couldn’t move up in the bank the way I wanted to unless I had further education in business,” Audrey recalls. With this in mind, she left Montego Bay for Kingston, where she enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Management degree while continuing to work for the bank.
Upon graduation, Audrey accepted an 18-month contract with a different financial institution, and her career began to progress. “I landed a position as a teller supervisor, and that’s when I really started to come into my own — to feel confident about what I could achieve,” she recalls.
Over the next few years, Audrey worked her way up in the banking world, taking on a variety of management and executive roles while also earning her MBA from the Mona School of Business and Management in Kingston. In 2017, she took on a VP role at Scotiabank Jamaica, and has been with the institution ever since.
Audrey is proud to report that 50 percent of deposit-taking institutions in Jamaica are now run by women, which she says is a significant shift from when she started in the industry. “We are still seeing some gaps in the boardroom, as we aren’t seeing female board chairs or directorship at the level we’d like. But we have come a long way.” For her part, Audrey serves as a director on a number of boards.
“The bank is seen as an industry outlier in Jamaica, because we have fairly balanced representation on our board and we are currently led by a woman at the executive level.”
With Scotiabank, Audrey says, she’s found an institution that shares her commitment to seeing more women in leadership roles. “The bank is seen as an industry outlier in Jamaica, because we have fairly balanced representation on our board and we are currently led by a woman at the executive level.” In fact, she adds, “at this time, we have more women on our leadership team than men.”
For Audrey, this is also the first time since she began working in senior leadership positions that she has a woman boss: Anya Schnoor, Executive Vice President of Scotiabank Caribbean, Central America and Uruguay, and executive sponsor of the International SWI expansion. “Anya has been a great mentor, supporter, and champion, and when I raised my hand to bring SWI to Jamaica, she helped us to get that done,” she says.
Having stepped into the role of country head in January 2021, Audrey found herself at the helm of a major bank in a tourism-dependent country in the middle of a pandemic that greatly impacted travel. “It’s been a very challenging time — both personally and professionally,” she says. “Despite the pandemic, we knew we had to continue creating value for our shareholders, supporting our customers, and ensuring our teams were connected.”
Over the past year, she’s had some great opportunities for learning and growth which have included better appreciating the value of being agile, resilient, and able to pivot. “I learned that we had to remain curious and find new ways to reach and meet our objectives without excuses,” she says. “And I believe we’ve done that very well.”
Personally, Audrey says meditation has been her saving grace. “In the early days of COVID, I was extremely anxious for personal reasons, and I drew upon my faith and supplemented that with a meditation app to achieve stability.”
As a mother of three, she says she has great empathy for what families have been going through during the past two years. She believes strongly in the power of government support for women, especially in countries like Jamaica where family support isn’t always available. “I know that childcare is one of the weaknesses of our society, and it’s also one of the drawbacks and challenges many women face as they try to advance their careers.”
Her ongoing goal is to continue to support women both through mentorship as well as through programs like The Scotiabank Women Initiative. “I will continue to give my attention to the needs of women in this country and do what I can to help support women as they try to advance their careers.”