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For This Scotiabank Leader, Inclusion is Not Just a Belief — it’s Behaviour That is Executed Daily

Priya Dhawan-Chahal, Scotiabank’s District Vice President, Midtown District, shares her perspective

By Sarah Kelsey

Being an ally involves more than just listening and learning, as Priya Dhawan-Chahal points out. For Scotiabank’s District Vice President, Midtown District, what matters most is action. 

“There are a lot of people who can say nice things, but being actionable is really important to making things happen,” she says. “It’s about being honest and being there.” Allyship is something Priya is evidently passionate about.

In addition to empowering some 200 employees across 16 branches in Toronto, she is a devoted leader within the organization who inspires change by championing a number of the Bank’s major Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, including The Scotiabank Women Initiative, Scotiabank Women in Leadership for Toronto Region, and Scotiabank’s Employee Giving program. 

As a result of Priya’s commitment to being an inclusive leader, she was selected and invited to participate as a Sponsor in Canadian Banking’s inaugural 2023 Global DEI Sponsorship Program. Throughout this nine-month program, Priya will support the development of the next generation of talent within Canadian Banking and remove barriers to leadership advancement for members of equity-deserving groups. She is also a mentor for the employee-led South Asian Network, a particularly meaningful contribution because as a South Asian woman, she wants to build the South Asian community’s presence and visibility at every level of the organization.  

“Being a good ally is about participating in building an inclusive culture. Everyone needs to feel they can bring their best and authentic selves to work every day across their whole selves.” Priya says. “[We can recognize] we’ve come a long way [when it comes to inclusion], but I do believe we have a very long way to go. That’s what drives me.”

Her appetite for influencing change in the financial services industry has roots in her childhood. Her parents were constant champions of her dreams (“we still speak every day and both of my parents have been foundational to who I am”) and her mother, who started in Canadian Banking in the ‘60s, was a trailblazer in the industry. She launched her own practice in the ‘80s and eventually became one of the first women to be invited into the President’s Club and the first woman to be invited to the Regal Club.

Priya fondly remembers helping her mother pull together presentations and slideshows as a young girl, gaining financial literacy and the confidence to speak about the banking industry along the way. 

“I’ve always been interested in business and finance,” she says, though, ironically, that’s not where she began her career. After graduating from the commerce program at the University of Toronto, Priya landed in the world of tech consulting, something she did while completing her MBA at the Schulich School of Business. She went on to spend a decade at one financial institution, working in both customer-facing and transformation leadership roles across Commercial and Corporate sectors, and then worked at a law firm where she coached lawyers on business development with bankers. She moved back into the financial services industry in 2016 as a Director, Customer Experience, Canadian Banking for Scotiabank, and took on her current role as District Vice President in 2018. 

While she describes her career as diverse, the one constant has been her drive to build teams who deliver results and exhibit passion in what they do. 

“I see leadership in two parts,” Priya says. Those parts include daily, weekly, quarterly, and annual touchpoints that are foundational to building trust with team members so “they’re aligned to a vision, and feel like they’re a part of something good and noble, while delivering results.” To Priya, leadership is also about developing an ecosystem where employees can bring their best selves to work, which involves creating actionable career path plans, developing talent, and encouraging networking.

When reflecting on the work she loves to do, Priya is still thrilled by it. “It’s really exciting. Every day is different, and every day is action packed,” she says. “[I get to] make meaningful change for the individual members of my team — to develop and grow them — and [for] my customers, to support them when times are good, and when times are difficult.” 

Priya adds she does her best to role model the right behaviours to win the hearts and minds of her team and invests a significant amount of time in making sure her team feels supported. As part of her mentorship to employees, Priya often shares sage career advice given to her by her father: take ownership of your career. 

The statement inspired her to take inventory of her goals and skills, an activity that enabled her to take the calculated risks and stretch opportunities that she’s had over the years. It’s something she revisits with each new project. Her goal is always to learn and to find ways to give back to the organization and its people through her work. 

“It’s always about giving back,” she says. “I feel like it’s part of my obligation. I’m really excited to see the Bank securing actionable change and [I’m fortunate] to be a part of it.”