LINKAGE Q1 (2021) - Choose To Challenge
By Anya Schnoor, Executive Vice President, Caribbean, Central America, Uruguay, Scotiabank
One of my heroes, Maya Angelou, once said, “If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” These are words that I have wholeheartedly lived by and embraced. They have had a profound impact on the way my own journey spanning 28 years in different countries and different roles, progressed.
I had the great privilege of working in Trinidad and Tobago between 2012 and 2017, as the Managing Director of Scotiabank. During those five years, I grew to love the rich diversity of its culture and people. In that time, I also met many young women who were brilliant, ambitious, and hopeful about what the future held. These women recognised the struggles of those that had come before them – lack of role models in key industries, a gaping need for society to have tough conversations about abuse, and the stigma around speaking up. They recognised the gaps that existed and the barriers they faced in the struggle for equality and justice. In them, I saw myself and the same fire to make a difference and drive meaningful change. We have made progress since that time, but there is much still that needs to be done.
Back in 2014, when I was first asked to speak at AMCHAM T&T, I shared what it takes to be successful and the challenges I had to overcome in my own career. It took me time to learn how imperative it is to chart your own definition of success despite societal norms and to not be held back by self-doubt about your abilities. In every woman’s career, we are likely to encounter norms and stereotypes, and the way in which we face and overcome them, will define the course of our careers.
When I reflect on my own career, I am still pleasantly surprised at the direction it took and how I got to where I am today. I grew up in a small town in Jamaica and left home for the first time at 17, when I headed off to university. After university, I started working in financial services and rose through the ranks until, in 2017, I was offered a position in Canada.
If I was to be completely honest with myself, I never expected to be promoted to the head office of the bank. My own insecurities about my humble beginnings began to creep into my psyche and plant doubts about my capabilities, but then I remembered Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Miss Lou, Calypso Rose, and Jean Pierre, all of whom, charted their own definition of success and had let nothing stand in their way. As a woman, sometimes it can be hard to keep in mind the negative impact of ingrained societal norms and the very real gender gap that exists. Regardless of the ground we have gained, it is a struggle for women to overcome existing stereotypes that limit expectations of what women can accomplish.
So, despite my hesitations, I decided to take the calculated risk anyway and moved to Canada, and it was the best decision I could have made. In my new role, I built a new team, challenged the status quo, and learnt many new things along the way. I came to appreciate the diversity of Canada, its openness to immigrants, and its appreciation for diversity of thought. These are the same values I’ve encountered in the bank, and their willingness to take a chance on me played an integral part in my success and confidence in the new role.
So when, in November of last year, I was asked to take the reins for our Caribbean, Central America, and Uruguay region to aid in their recovery from the effects of the global pandemic, I jumped at the opportunity. In a way, this new role felt like I was coming back full circle to my home and to the people that I love. The Caribbean has always held a special place in my heart, and it has so much untapped potential. I am eager to play a part in helping unlock that potential in order to benefit our future generations. I have always sought out the opportunity to aid those that choose to step up and challenge inequality and injustice, and I am proud to do my part in an organisation that values diversity of people and perspectives.
As an organisation with a strong international presence, Scotiabank serves a global customer base with a team of over 90,000 employees located around the world. We choose to make diversity and inclusion key strategic priorities, because we believe that for women to succeed, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way we view them and their importance to the success of any establishment.
Working for an organisation that truly values diversity and equality in the workplace, has become increasingly important to me as I have progressed in my career. I always wanted to work for an institution that allows women the choice to make decisions that best suit them. When I made the move to Scotiabank in the early stages of my career, I knew I had made the right decision. It is no coincidence that the senior management team of Scotiabank Trinidad & Tobago is made up of 50% women or that as a publicly listed company, we have one of the highest percentages of women represented on our board. The bank is making significant strides when it comes to closing the gender gap and we are not slowing down.
For the past seven years, Scotiabank Trinidad & Tobago has partnered with AMCHAM T&T as the platinum sponsor of the Women’s Leadership Conference. This conference is a unique platform that provides women with the opportunity to engage with each other, discuss their ideas and experiences, and advocate for the advancement of women. The value of the conference is that it is helping bring awareness to the gender disparity perpetuating our society and the barriers women face. It also creates a community of women and allies who are dedicated to supporting females in the workplace.
We must recognise that the issues which prevent women from achieving success are real and are unrelated to whether males or females make better leaders. However, these issues will not be resolved overnight, and the work will continue until we can level the playing field for women.
Great leaders know that they are only as successful as the people they surround themselves with. It is vital to build a diverse team filled with people that come from all walks of life, so we attain the quality and diversity of ideas that we need to thrive in an increasingly global community.
Leadership is about inspiring others to see your vision and supporting them as they pursue that vision. Today, I share with you a vision that is shared by many leaders around the world including myself - a vision for an inclusive world where people feel respected, valued, and safe. I see a world where all people have equal rights and say, where we can call out inequality without fear, and that is a better place for all. That sounds like the world I want to live in and contribute towards building.
The journey to build an inclusive world isn’t easy and we all share a collective responsibility to ensure enduring equality for everyone. We all need to step up when it comes to challenging norms and calling out gender biases and inequality. This is the only way to bring about lasting change and achieve success. Together, we can make a difference that will improve the lives of future generations, and permanently change the conversation around women in the workplace.
Scotiabank Image courtesy Alice Besson
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