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Scotiabank’s sponsorship program empowers underrepresented groups, fosters leadership development

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June 1, 2023
By Todd Humber

A Scotiabank bank building in downtown Ottawa. Photo: Adobe Stock

Isabelle Cadotte used an interesting word to describe her mentor: “Courageous.”

Cadotte, the Calgary-based market lead of Scotiatrust in the Southern Prairies, recently completed a nine-month sponsorship program specifically designed to boost the ranks of underrepresented groups at the manager and senior-management level.

Scotiabank’s Global Wealth Management Pilot Program ran nine months and paired 13 protégées from equity-deserving groups with a sponsor and gave them the opportunity to attend networking and educational workshops and brainstorm, refine and present a pitch to senior executives.

The program was created after internal and external data showed a bit of a cliff or career plateau for professionals in these groups.


Using ‘social capital’

Cadotte said her mentor, Anna Iemma-Bonanno, regional manager of global asset management for Toronto East, was willing to use her “social capital” to benefit her — and that meant a lot.

“It showed a lot of courage on her part, to pull that chair up at the table for me and really understand that pulling a chair for me doesn’t reduce her station at the table,” she said. “It doesn’t remove her seat. It just increases the size of the table. Not every leader or person would want to do that and sort of share her network with others.”

Isabelle Cadotte (left), market lead of Scotiatrust in the Southern Prairies, and Anna Iemma-Bonanno, regional manager of global asset management for Toronto East. Photos: LinkedIn

Iemma-Bonanno said introducing Cadotte to her contacts, whether they be at the vice-president or senior vice-president level, had an unexpected benefit for her as a mentor.

“She represented herself so well that it actually added to my brand as well,” she said.

“There were some benefits that were maybe unintended, but absolutely came my way as well.”

She took a holistic view of the program in that it benefited Cadotte, herself and the organization.

“The bank is only as strong as the people that are sitting at the table and making decisions on behalf of our business,” said Iemma-Bonanno. “Anytime I see talent that might be worthy, I’m going to passionately advocate that they get that. It wasn’t even a thought about taking the spotlight away from me.”

Feeling like ‘imposters’

One of the big things Cadotte learned was to be more assertive and think big.

“I think we tend to, as women and from an underprivileged background, feel like we’re imposters,” she said. “What she demonstrated to me was that I have the skills and I deserve to be at the table as well. She built my confidence up tremendously.”

Prior to taking part in the program, Cadotte feared being assertive would be interpreted as being aggressive. But Iemma-Bonanno showed her there was ample room to be decisive and confident.

The program culminated in a pitch to senior management, which was incredibly valuable, she said. It taught her how to speak to executives, how to co-ordinate with stakeholders to achieve a goal and build an effective presentation.

“What was great about the program is that executives were very much open to listening to our ideas,” she said. “And not just saying they’re listening; it’s actually putting that into action. When there were good ideas presented, they were actually picked up by the business lines.”

Constructing the pitch

Cadotte was placed into a group of three proteges. They were tasked with identifying a problem or an opportunity that needed a solution.

“We essentially threw some spaghetti at the wall in terms of ideas,” she said. They landed on intergenerational wealth transfer as the focus of their pitch.

She was impressed with how Scotiabank assembled the groups of proteges — in her case she had a subject matter expert (herself) along with someone from the estate and trust business and a project manager.

“Intergenerational wealth transfers are something that addresses a huge gap and huge opportunity for, quite frankly, not just our bank but all financial institutions,” said Cadotte.

The pitch was very well received, resulting in accolades from senior leadership and “the knowledge that we should continue with this and seek some funding to actually make it a reality.”

A remote relationship

Cadotte didn’t know Iemma-Bonanno before the program, but technology made virtual mentoring seamless.

It started with setting up recurring meetings every two weeks. If a meeting was missed for any reason, it had to be rescheduled. Iemma-Bonanno also made it clear that she was available any time, outside the scheduled discussion times, to answer questions or chat.

“There is a two-hour time zone difference, but everyone was flexible and understanding where I came from as well,” said Cadotte, joking that it didn’t include regularly waking her up at 7 a.m. Calgary time for 9 a.m. Toronto meetings.

“I offered that same flexibility, meeting a little bit earlier or a bit later,” she said. “We all sort of worked through that. I was very glad to see that they were willing to engage in mostly virtual connections.”

Iemma-Bonanno said the first month of the program was spent getting to know each other and build a relationship using cameras, microphones and computer screens.

“It wasn’t even program talk. It was talking about your life. How did you come here? What was your past experience? Where have you seen some challenges? I think that helped,” she said.

That was critical because it enabled Iemma-Bonanno to passionately advocate for her when doing introductions to other leaders at the bank. And while the program is now officially over, the relationship has continued.

“I’ll continue to advocate for her because she’s awesome and I’m able to stand behind any move she’s looking to make,” she said.

Program results and inspiration

Scotiabank said nearly half (46%) of protégés had received a promotion or an expanded mandate during or one month following the conclusion of the program.

And nine in 10 (92%) said it had a positive impact on their career and professional development. Every protégé also said they would recommend the program to their peers.

Erin Griffiths, senior vice-president of client solutions, Canadian wealth management at Scotiabank, was the executive champion of the program.

To eliminate human bias and create transparency in the program, a numbers-driven approach was taken to select and pair sponsors with protégés, using data from the bank’s diversity survey and selecting professionals who had opted in to be contacted for DEI-related programs, she said.

“I wouldn’t want it to be, ‘Well, you know someone on my team is interested. Can we put them forward?’” she said. That’s because it would then favour candidates who are already close to someone on the executive team.

It was also important that the sponsor and the protégé didn’t already know each other.

“We want people to have to meet new people,” said Griffiths. “We didn’t put people together in the same divisions.”

It also leveraged lessons from the pandemic and the increased comfort level with taking part in virtual meetings.

“You don’t want geography to be a barrier for this,” she said. “Doing things virtually and hybrid can remove those boundaries that maybe, historically, would have led to a different program. Because you say, ‘Well, everyone who participates is going to be in person, so they have to be in Toronto.’”

The program was so successful that it has been expanded and a second wave is running this summer, she said, with about 70 people participating.

Griffiths is happy with the results of the pilot, calling it a “very effective way to support people from equity deserving groups who are looking to further their career.” What she found interesting is that Cadotte has now become an advocate of the program.

“Now you have not only sponsors who are champions, but we also have protégés who are champions of this program and will encourage their peers to participate,” she said “Allyship starts with the letters a-l-l, because everybody has a role to play.”

The final word

Cadotte didn’t hesitate to say she would recommend the program to colleagues.

“It’s absolutely amazing. I’m not in a position to do a lot of project work with peers,” said Cadotte. “That was a great opportunity for me.”

For Iemma-Bonanno, that opportunity to give back is “super important.”

“I think when you get to a certain level with the bank, you don’t get there on your own. We’ve all kind of benefited from mentorship-sponsorship,” she said. “To have a formal opportunity to give it back? There’s a lot of satisfaction there.”

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