Julie Walsh, Senior Vice President, Corporate Secretary and Chief Corporate Governance Officer at Scotiabank, discusses the bank’s commitment to board diversity. Now, more than ever, having an effective board with diverse perspectives is important especially during a pandemic and an economic crisis that has disproportionately impacted women.
Having an effective board with diverse perspectives and experiences has always been crucial, but even more so now during a pandemic and an economic crisis that has disproportionately impacted women. Scotiabank has long been committed to board diversity and has taken great strides to achieve it. We first adopted a board diversity policy in 2013, setting out our gender diversity goals but also defining diversity broadly across a range of characteristics. Today, 46% of our directors are women, and we have consistently had more than 20% women board members since 2004. But there are other equally important ways that companies can contribute in order to support women, their careers and their ascension to boards. A multi-dimensional approach is key and will improve corporate governance overall in the long run.
Scotiabank supports diversity beyond its board table and is a proud sponsor of several initiatives including Women in Capital Markets, the Catalyst Accord, the 30% Club of Canada and organizations increasing the representation of women in the technology industry. We have also channeled practices from our parent board of directors and applied those across our footprint, so that we can have a meaningful impact in other markets, developing pipelines not only in our own organization but for our clients as well. This includes extending a diversity lens to our subsidiary boards. Across our footprint, we have many subsidiaries with their own skills matrices and diversity policies, which for many are market-leading initiatives. Among our Canadian subsidiaries, women’s representation is 50% on the Scotia Capital board of directors and 67% among Tangerine Bank directors, which was also the first major Canadian financial institution to have a woman President and CEO. We have strong gender diversity at many of our large subsidiary boards with close to 20% women representation in Chile and Mexico; close to or over 40% in Colombia, Peru and the US; 33% in Trinidad and Tobago; and 45% in Jamaica. This approach can have a big impact, setting an example and raising the bar in markets where diversity on boards may not be a requirement or may be less further along.
Using best practices in corporate governance that we consider to be part of our corporate culture, we aim to set precedents and set an example in these local markets to help fuel change. Ultimately, this helps to create a better pipeline of directors in Canada and in other markets. Focusing on that pipeline has long been important. Scotiabank has run directors’ colleges— specialized training to prepare our officers to serve on boards and have a better understanding of the role of a director and corporate governance issues — for some time. We recently used this program as a basis to create a tailored initiative to prepare women outside of the organization for board roles as well. In December 2018, the Bank launched The Scotiabank Women Initiative™ – a comprehensive program that supports women-led and women-owned businesses across Canada through a commitment of $3 billion CAD in capital to women-led enterprises as well as mentorship and education. As a member of the Advisory Board to this initiative, I have been able to mentor women on governance related matters as part of our program.
Building on the success of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, my colleagues in Global Banking and Markets expanded the program in 2019, tailoring it for clients’ needs and offering exclusive access to innovation, education and advisory solutions to help propel their careers to the next level. We worked with clients to design a program tailored for women – from emerging leaders to senior executives – to help them pursue their highest professional ambitions and elevate their businesses. As part of the initiative’s advisory pillar, we created the Scotiabank Good Corporate Governance Program, a bespoke series of sessions for senior professional women to explore best practices and emerging trends, while enhancing their skills and potential as board directors. Topics discussed during the inaugural program held earlier this year included how to approach board recruitment, how to choose a board, and how to contribute upon joining one.
Educational programs like these help to break down barriers and demystify various aspects of the boardroom, which can be seen as intimidating to some. It can also generate opportunities for women to serve on boards. As part of Scotiabank’s work to support women’s board participation, we assist corporate clients who want increased diversity on their boards. As companies look to ramp up board diversity, we now have a growing list of board-ready women who have completed our Scotiabank Good Corporate Governance Program for them to recruit.
Taking this holistic, substantive approach – across boards, employees, clients and communities – sends a clear message about the primacy we place on board diversity, and its importance and impact, globally. It’s important to help women at various stages of their career in order to build up the boardroom talent pipeline while also creating more opportunities and widening the aperture of who is considered for board seats. This deeper, principle-driven strategy will be more impactful in the end.
This article first appeared in Responsible Investor.