How do you attract top talent? Foster an inclusive workplace

By Shelley White

For Naomi Shaw, gender inclusion is about more than simply counting how many women work at an organization.

“For me, inclusion means an environment where every employee feels valued for what they bring to the table,” she says. “People can feel comfortable to be themselves, and feel that they can contribute to their maximum and perform at their best.”

As senior vice-president of human resources for international banking at Scotiabank, Naomi leads a passionate team that is committed to promoting gender inclusion, a key strategic focus for Scotiabank’s international banking division. It’s a commitment to equality that benefits employees and the organization as a whole.

“If your organization has a reputation for having an inclusive workforce, people will come knocking on your door and you will attract the best talent,” she notes.

Naomi became aware of the need to further promote gender inclusion when she began visiting Scotiabank’s Latin American countries as part of the bank’s international banking team.

“I would be sitting and meeting with the senior management teams in those countries and I’d often be the only woman at the table,” she says. “I thought that was such a contrast to what I had seen here in Canada.”

Naomi wondered, “Are we tapping into the broader talent pool, both internally and externally?” It sparked a discussion with the international country heads about unconscious bias—the idea that everyone has biases against different groups that they may not be aware of.

Through informal discussions with women in Scotiabank’s international offices, Naomi was able to learn about some of the challenges they have experienced in their careers. Many of the challenges were based on cultural expectations in their home countries—ideas that women are responsible for the family and men are responsible for working.

For example, one female employee recounted: “I have kids, but my career is important to me too. If something is happening and the team is asked to work late, my boss will say, ‘You’ve got kids, don’t feel like you have to stay, you can go home.’ But my boss wouldn’t say that to my male counterparts.”

As more stories were shared, the awareness of unconscious bias grew which led to a commitment by Scotiabank’s international banking division to make gender inclusion a priority.

Scotiabank CEOs from Mexico, Colombia and Chile recently took part in an International Banking Inclusion Panel at the new Scotiabank Centre in Toronto, where they reflected on their experiences as leaders and why they believe it is important to continue building a culture of inclusion at Scotiabank. More than 300 employees attended the event, which was moderated in Spanish so panelists were speaking their native tongue, with real-time translation for English speakers.

Naomi, as facilitator of the panel, says she was humbled by the participants’ honesty and willingness to be so open.

“For the international CEOs to do this panel, I think it was incredibly powerful,” she says. “They wanted to show people that they felt this was important.”

Scotiabank Colombia’s CEO and country head, Santiago Perdomo, spoke about what he and his team are doing to ensure women have equal opportunity to excel.

“We are working on having more flexible schedules, and we have also initiated talks with women where they express their concerns,” he said. “We are continuing to have these talks because these conversations are very important.”

Santiago also noted that women in his organization are gaining more and more prominent positions.

“In the steering committee, we have two women out of eleven members,” he said. “In the next level of report, we have 37 per cent women in leadership positions. These are women with vast experience who are adding so much value to the organization.”


“If your organization has a reputation for having an inclusive workforce, people will come knocking on your door.”


Another panelist was Enrique Zorrilla, Scotiabank Mexico’s senior vice-president and country head. Enrique pointed out that diversity in an organization should be looked upon as an opportunity.

“I’ve concluded that we need each other — we are better together than on our own. As we talk about diversity and inclusion, we have to recognize that because of origin, experiences, gender and other aspects, each person brings different attributes and we need them all.  Having these multiple perspectives makes us better as a team.”

It’s an attitude that seems to be working — in 2015, Scotiabank Mexico was awarded first place from Mexico’s Great Place to Work Institute in the gender equality category.

Francisco Sardon, Scotiabank Chile, CEO and country manager, added that he sees firsthand the need to create an inclusive environment.

“We all feel a responsibility to come together to make efforts to foster inclusion. The executive committee in Chile is a great example of this. We have a diverse group representing six different countries, with 12 individuals, men and women, showcasing the outlook of international banking in Central and South America. This sort of collaboration can really be fruitful.”

To keep the momentum going, a Scotiabank inclusion council with representation from each of the Latin American countries meets monthly to share best practices and experiences.

Naomi says she is optimistic that gender inclusion will continue to improve in the international banking community as more people understand that it’s not just about equality, but good business too.

“If we have a truly inclusive culture and people feel like it doesn’t matter what gender you are, what colour you are, what school you went to, then we can attract the top talent and it would be a true meritocracy,” she says.

“What could be better for an organization than having the best talent and the most high-performing teams?”

From COO of Scotiabank Puerto Rico to Toronto: Meet Enid Pico

By Shelley White


Enid Pico has never been afraid to make a big career move.

In 2010, she made the leap from a top job in her home country as President and Chief Operating Officer of Scotiabank Puerto Rico to a challenging new role 3,000 km away in Toronto.

“It was a big risk and looking back, I totally underestimated the degree of change,” says Enid, Senior Vice President and Head of International Operations and Shared Services at Scotiabank. “Coming to Toronto, it was a different culture, work environment, and climate.  I arrived in October and was so excited to be here. On the first day, I remember looking out my window and seeing snow. I didn’t have a coat or boots. The only things I had were high heels and dresses, but one learns fast!”

Despite the drastic change in climate, Enid thrived in her new environment.

“At that point, my attitude was, ‘I’m going to succeed no matter what’. So every time anything came up, I’d say, ‘I don’t care, I’m going forward,’” she says.

Now, Enid oversees critical operational and compliance risk management for all of Scotiabank’s international retail and commercial operations, which serve 13 million customers in over 30 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean and Central America.

“I come from a pretty remote area of Puerto Rico, the western part of the island, two hours away from the capital, so for me to even move to the capital to work in banking was a big thing,” she says. “I never dreamed that I would be in Toronto and looking after the international operations of Scotiabank.”

Enid’s journey to success started as a sports-crazy kid in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Growing up with an art teacher mother and a university professor father, education was a focus. “In my family, you could go without a lot of things, but not without an education,” she says.

Her grandmother was a major role model.

“Like in a lot of Caribbean or Latin American countries, she was the matriarch of the family so she taught me the meaning of family, how important it is to be connected,” says Enid. “Also that things don’t always go the way you want them to, but you have to be strong enough to accept it and make the best out of it.”

Outside of her family members, Enid says she looked up to powerful figures like U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher and basketball star Michael Jordan. “How [Jordan] alone could make a difference in a game, it was so incredible, and also to see that he took on all that responsibility. He was accountable for it, but also he had a way of making everybody around him be better.”

Though she had an early dream of sportscasting (“There was no ESPN at the time, so I had no career path,” she laughs), her love of numbers led her to pursue an accounting degree. Enid joined Scotiabank Puerto Rico when a job in the finance department opened up.

She recalls her early days as a working mom, when she had to learn how to combine caregiving with a demanding job as Vice President of Finance.

“I remember saying, ‘How am I going to balance everything?’, because a lot of the meetings were at 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. and I had to go pick my son up [at school] at 5:15 p.m.,” says Enid. “I remember at that point [my superiors] saying, ‘Enid, don’t worry we will accommodate you.’ They remodelled my office and I had a table for my son. If there was a meeting, I would say, ‘Excuse me, I’ll be right back,’ I’d pick him up, then he would do his homework and I would continue with the meeting.”

“Even then, the Bank looked for ways to accommodate me. And if my boss at that time wouldn’t have done that, I probably would have had to leave the Bank to take care of [my son]. So I try to pay it forward.”

After 20-odd years of rising in the ranks at Scotiabank Puerto Rico, Enid made the move to Canada in 2010 when an opportunity came up to be in charge of shared services for the Bank’s operations in the Caribbean and Central America.

Enid says an important part of her decision to take the job was that she reached a point in her personal life where she was very comfortable making the move. Her son had graduated from high school and decided to pursue acting in New York City, which made moving to Toronto all the more appealing. “Everything lined up,” she says.

In the years since that big move, Enid’s impact on Scotiabank and the larger banking world has continued to grow. In addition to her current role as Senior Vice President, Enid sits on the Inclusion Council at Scotiabank and is the Executive Champion for HOLA (Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Advancement) Scotiabank, an employee resource group focusing on Latin cultures and Latin markets expertise.

Enid says that she’s honoured to take on a role that promotes diversity in her industry. In her view, championing inclusion is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

“We have to reflect our clients. In International Banking, we have over 13 million clients, so we have to make sure our people and our staff know those clients so they can serve them better. If you have a diverse client base, you need a diverse staff base,” she says.

“And it’s been proven time and time again, when you have diversity of thoughts, you are able to be more efficient, more productive and more effective.”
Enid says it’s been an “awesome ride” to see how Scotiabank’s international presence has grown over the years. When she first started at Scotiabank, they did not have a significant ownership position in any bank in Latin America. Now, over 50% of Scotiabank’s more than 89,000 employees are working in our international operations. She’s also proud of Scotiabank’s commitment to the advancement of women in the workforce.

“When I started working, I’d go to meetings and my bosses were always men, my peers were always men,” she says. “When I look at the Bank now, we’ve made tremendous strides. Here in Canada, my boss is a woman. When I go to a meeting today, 50 to 60% are women.”

When it comes to advice for young women looking to succeed in their careers, Enid’s message is characteristically bold.

“Take a risk and be fearless,” she says.

“You have an opinion, voice it. Take a risk, be relentless and be confident that you bring to the table a perspective that nobody in that room has.”

The three key practices for an inclusive work culture

By Shazia McCormick

Shazia McCormick is the Director, Culture and Inclusion at Scotiabank. She’s worked globally in multiple industries, and is a recognized thought leader in her field.

Growing up as a child of mixed-race parents gave me a unique perspective on life. I learned first-hand how ethnicity can impact how you are treated—having both experienced privilege and being the target of non-inclusive behaviours. It also spurred me to want to understand the world more. I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in multiple countries, with each having their own socio-economic challenges.

As an adult, this has allowed me to recognize that privilege comes with a choice: how we use it. I believe in the concept of “I am the problem. I am the solution.” It is everyone’s job to help create an inclusive culture, especially in the workplace. Being an ally and amplifying the voices of others are key components, but there are many levers needed to make change happen.

And this is where we have the opportunity to do better in our workplaces. Creating an inclusive culture is not just about initiatives, it’s about fundamentally changing the things that happen every day. This includes processes and practices throughout organizations, how we communicate, and the skills that managers and leaders have.

Yes, it’s easier said than done—but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Through my experience in organizations around the world, and in my current role as Director, Culture and Inclusion at Scotiabank, I’ve been able to identify some elements that help create an inclusive work culture.

Don’t just create diversity, embrace it.

With over 23 million customers globally, Scotiabankers speak over 100 languages and hail from over 120 countries. As Canada’s international bank, diversity is key to the success of our company. We believe that inclusion is the action that delivers the benefits of diversity. If an organization lacks systemic practices to help its employees deliver their best, it will never see the full potential of a diverse organization.

Our inclusion journey has evolved over our many years in business. We embrace diversity by valuing differences. Through our practices, we strive to create an environment where we amplify and leverage these differences to foster innovation and performance. Through our people, we continuously build our understanding of our customers and each other. It is our varied perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences that enable achievement of our business goals.

Related: Learn how Maria Theofilaktidis is leading by example, and how she navigated her career to land at the top.

Encourage involvement throughout the organization.

We believe that every Scotiabanker has a role in creating an environment where people feel involved, respected, valued, connected, and are able to bring their authentic selves to work. By fostering this mindset with all employees, we enable them to do their best work.

We have had success engaging all levels of our organization through Employee Resources Groups (ERGs). These are the grassroots voice of Scotiabank employees, amplifying the voice of our diversity, spanning cultural groups, gender groups, LGBT+ and more. They focus on employee development and general awareness, and they identify opportunities to have customer impact.

An organization doesn’t necessarily need to follow this model—but even without large programs, you can find success by encouraging individual employees at a grassroots level. A great example of personal action is the HeForShe movement, which we have also embraced at Scotiabank. It’s simply men taking tangible actions in their day-to-day jobs to make a difference in gender equality. The immediate impact may be within their sphere of influence, but the results of the movement are inevitably broad-reaching.

Set the strategy and tone from the top.

If senior leaders are not on board acting as role models, inclusion efforts will fall flat. At Scotiabank, we emphasize leadership development, specific to inclusive and respectful behaviours. We also hold our leaders accountable to demonstrate inclusivity in their actions and teams. This can be seen both through daily practices and initiatives, such as our leadership development program and our Inclusion Council.

Founded in 2014, the Inclusion Council has a mandate of demonstrating, monitoring, and promoting a culture of inclusion and diversity of perspective for better business results. Led by our Chief Human Resources Officer, and consisting of Executive Vice Presidents and Senior Vice Presidents from across the Bank, they are tasked with embedding diversity and inclusion into strategic business initiatives. The group meets regularly to ensure they’re having an impact. Whatever your organization’s inclusion strategy, by regularly examining what’s working and what isn’t, you’ll find that progress can be put on a faster track.

My last piece of advice: don’t rest on your laurels. Scotiabank is continuing to evolve what it means to be an inclusive workplace and the need for it to be an action. It is never enough to say, “We support diversity.” An inclusive environment is a daily, organization-wide effort, demonstrated through both people and practices. At Scotiabank, we understand that and it is how we compete at our best.

Meet a champion for women that’s leading by example

“It’s not about squashing men and lifting others up, but rather to be sure our policies and practices are fair and equitable and that the opportunities are there for everyone.”  – Maria Theofilaktidis



By Shelley White

Maria Theofilaktidis is passionate about gender inclusion in the workplace.

“It’s a personal thing for me, because I’ve always had this view of identifying injustice out there and then trying to do something about it,” she says.

As Executive Vice President for Retail Distribution, Canadian Banking at Scotiabank, Maria is a shining example of how women can enjoy career success while helping others to do the same.

She’s a member of the Global Inclusion Council at Scotiabank, where she is the Executive Champion for Scotiabank Women. Her role on the council is to monitor and promote a culture of inclusion at Scotiabank, while acting as a role model for younger employees exemplifying what women can achieve.

“If I look back at my career, there have been very few women role models in top positions, because I’ve been in male-dominated industries,” says Maria. “I feel that every woman has that responsibility to show others the path she has taken and the things she has done that have led to her being successful.”

Maria’s journey to success began as a child growing up in South Africa. She was one of four daughters of working-class, Greek-Cypriot immigrants, and says her parents instilled a strong work ethic and spirit of perseverance that would serve her well in the working world.

“My parents had a hard life, and their focus was around us getting an education, being independent, making our own paths and never having to rely on someone else for our own success or life,” she says. “I never grew up with a view that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. When I started work, that was the mindset I started with.”

RelatedThree key practises for an inclusive work culture 

In her early days as an accountant, Maria says it could be challenging to be the only woman at the boardroom table.

“There were times I walked into a meeting and they would talk to the young man on my right or my left because they assumed that he was my boss,” she says.

Faced with these obstacles, Maria refused to let those challenging moments get her down. She called upon that persevering spirit to assert herself and prove her abilities, while still remaining true to her personality and her values.

“I didn’t let it stop me from having my voice heard,” she says. “I think one thing that helped me was that I worked with some forward-thinking leaders, who were supportive and empowered and put you in those positions irrespective of the fact that you were the only woman on the team.”

Maria points out that study after study has shown that companies that have a more gender-diverse management team and workforce are more engaged, more innovative and more competitive. And while some might fear the spectre of “tokenism,” she emphasizes that gender-inclusive hiring practices are about creating an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to be the best they can be.

 “It’s not about squashing men and lifting others up, but rather to be sure our policies and practices are fair and equitable and that the opportunities are there for everyone,” she says. “It’s our responsibility to provide [young women] coming into the workforce with the opportunities to develop on an equal basis to their male peers.”

One of Scotiabank’s initiatives to promote gender equality is their “HeForShe” movement, where male leaders at the company talk publicly about the actions they will take personally to help empower women and challenge any unconscious bias they may have when it comes to women in the workplace.

“We’ve had some great take-up on that, people who have said, ‘I’m so pleased we’re having this conversation,’” says Maria. “The more people talk about it, the more they are able to engage and say, ‘I recognize that now in myself and I can learn to do things differently.’”

As the champion for Scotiabank Women, Maria says she’s been proud to see the company’s commitment to prioritizing gender inclusion, and she’s seen “big inroads” made in the last 10 years. The amount of women in executive positions has been growing every year. Through the grassroots Women’s Groups across Scotiabank, female employees at the manager and director levels get opportunities to network with peers and gain access to female role models in senior leadership positions. Scotiabank has also partnered with Plan Canada’s Because I’m a Girl, a global organization that promotes education, health, safety and economic security for girls in developing countries.

“We are lucky in Canada that women don’t face some of the challenges that women face globally, like not having access to education, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be a bigger voice in the bigger picture and really help to further the cause around education and safe spaces for women,” says Maria.

As well, Scotiabank’s commitment to diversity goes beyond gender, ensuring inclusion and opportunities for all, regardless of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or ability. In fact, Scotiabank was named Canada’s Best Diversity Employer by Mediacorp Canada in 2015 and was also recognized as one of the World’s Best Multinational Workplaces by Great Places To Work.

“We want to create an environment where everyone can be their authentic self at work because it’s only then that someone will speak up, that they will participate, that they will be fully engaged and bring the highest value into the workplace,” says Maria.

“There is no one look, feel or sound of a leader, that’s what we need people to understand.”

Scotiabank’s partnership with Women of Influence is another positive step towards promoting inclusion and diversity in the workplace, says Maria, because it’s in line with her view that individual actions can create collective change. She says there’s a quote from Spider-Man that sums it up quite well:

“‘With great power comes great responsibility,’” she says.

“How can we ask for change if we’re not part of that change? And that’s what Women of Influence is all about – it’s all of us mobilizing to influence others to do the right thing.”