Colleen Baldwin is passionate about influencing change and promoting accessibility — here’s how she’s removing barriers and building an inclusive work environment at Scotiabank
As Vice President, Head of Global Design Strategy & Transformation in Real Estate, Colleen shares her perspective.
By Sarah Kelsey
When you’re sitting in a space, take a moment to assess it. How does it make you feel? Is it inviting? Does it spark creativity? Can you easily access the items you need?
These are all questions Colleen Baldwin asks herself when reviewing Scotiabank’s massive real estate portfolio. As the Bank’s Vice President, Head of Global Design Strategy & Transformation in Real Estate, she is responsible for affecting the design of the 26 million sq. ft (over 2.4 million sq. m) she manages across 30 countries. She has a keen understanding of how the spaces she’s creating — whether they’re for work, play, or to bank — impact one’s sense of well-being and belonging.
Colleen’s goal is for her team to provide everyone with the same meaningful Scotiabank experience, whether they’re an employee or a customer.
“At the core of everything we do is connection. Everyone wants to feel connected,” she says. “We’re all far more similar than we are different, so at the heart of the work we’re doing is building a relationship.”
She points to one of the Bank’s most recent large-scale projects, Scotiabank North, as a prime example. Started in 2018, the design of the organization’s new Toronto-based tower was developed to get people away from their desks to facilitate better connections and collaboration and by providing unique spaces to support these activities. The same principles were used in Scotiabank’s ecosystems in Toronto, Jamaica and most recently, Mexico City.
“At the core of everything we do is connection. Everyone wants to feel connected.”
“At the Bank, employees have choice; they can go to a meeting corner where they can have a conversation or to The Commons, a connected space for all that includes a cafeteria and high-end coffee service. Here they can connect with colleagues in a more informal environment,” she says. “It gives all employees options about where and how they work,” which is something that is more important than ever before in this post-COVID office space era.
In the real estate department at the Bank, inclusive design and accessibility also play an integral role in new and existing spaces. As members of Scotiabank’s DiversAbility Employee Resource Group (ERG), Colleen and her team are deeply passionate about building spaces that accommodate everyone’s unique needs and preventing the physical or mental barriers that one might encounter in the workplace.
“I joined the DiversAbility ERG as an ally,” she notes. “It’s an important place for me to be because I need to hear from people who require accommodation so we can design things differently.” The feedback she has received so far has led her team to create several unique spaces, including spaces to accommodate support dogs and personal care rooms where individuals can take medications they require during the day. There are also prayer and meditation rooms for those who want to utilize them.
“There have been several ‘a-ha!’ moments, and everything I’ve learned has helped my team and I design more inclusive spaces,” she says. “The Bank cares deeply about creating a culture that’s inclusive and where every employee feels empowered and respected.”
She notes the organization has the same focus and goals for customers, creating a culture of openness within its branches is imperative.
“Do you leave feeling more energized than when you arrived? If so, then we’ve achieved what we should have in creating a space that’s diverse and inclusive.”
Colleen recounts a visit to Mexico where she toured a small micro-financing bank that displayed work by local women-led companies the bank was supporting. As a result, the bank also started displaying stories of bank philanthropy and customer stories in the kitchenettes of their ecosystems. “There’s no better way to showcase your values than that,” she notes, and it’s why, when you walk into Scotiabank spaces you will see — in the images and environment — key words and messages that showcase the organization’s desire to create genuine connection, and providing accessible customer service is the key to that.
“Do you leave feeling more energized than when you arrived?” Colleen asks. “If so, then we’ve achieved what we should have in creating a space that’s diverse and inclusive.”
She notes it’s a desire to give back and build lasting connections that drives her on a daily basis. “I love learning about people and their needs and translating that into something tangible,” she says. “I’m so lucky to do what I love and to work for an organization that makes inclusion a priority.”
Colleen adds, “I’ve always known design matters — accessibility issues, diversity, inclusion — we’re really affecting everyone with what we do. Every little thing has value. We’re always reimagining the future and looking to create great experiences. This is a very rich environment to be in.”