AMCHAM’s Women’s Leadership Conference 2024 – Remarks by Karen Abraham

March 20th, 2024    |   Related To: Scotiabank

Inspire Inclusion

Her Excellency Christine Carla Kangaloo ORTT, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago poses with the AMCHAM T&T Board of Directors, CEO, and members of the Secretariat.
Her Excellency Christine Carla Kangaloo ORTT, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago poses with the AMCHAM T&T Board of Directors, CEO, and members of the Secretariat. (l-r) Melissa Pierre – Senior Trade and Policy Specialist (AMCHAM T&T); Anna Henderson – Vice President (AMCHAM T&T) & Chief Executive Officer (AMARANTH Business Solutions); Kieron Bailey – Director (AMCHAM T&T) & Sr Vice President: Country Compliance Officer – Trinidad / LATAM Compliance Monitoring & MCA Lead (Citi); Glenn Hamel-Smith – Director (AMCHAM T&T) & Partner & Head – Banking & Finance (M. Hamel-Smith & Co.); Griselle Smith – Director (AMCHAM T&T) & Caribbean HR Leader – Human
Resources (IBM) ; Nirad Tewarie – CEO (AMCHAM T&T); Her Excellency Christine Carla Kangaloo ORTT, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; Patricia Ghany – Director (AMCHAM T&T) & Chief Financial Officer (Esau Oilfield Supplies & Co Limited); Stuart Franco – President (AMCHAM T&T) & Chief Executive Officer (The TSL Group); Toni Sirju-Ramnarine – Director (AMCHAM T&T) & Vice President, Corporate Operations and Transformation (Atlantic LNG); Greer Quan – Vice President (AMCHAM T&T) & Chief Executive Officer – Caribbean (Pan American Life Insurance Group)
Tricia De La Rosa-Camacho – Treasuer & Director (AMCHAM T&T) & VP, AML/ATF & Compliance (Scotiabank Trinidad & Tobago Limited); Hema Son Son – Accountant (AMCHAM T&T)
Karen Abraham Vice President and Chief Risk Officer, Scotiabank
Karen Abraham
Vice President and Chief Risk Officer, Caribbean South and East, Scotiabank

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m beyond honored to be here among such fantastic and dignified company at this the 10th Anniversary of the AMCHAM Women’s Leadership Conference. Scotiabank is proud to have been here for each of those ten years as a major sponsor, and we have thoroughly enjoyed the journey. It truly is rewarding to partner with those who share the same passions that we do, and we sincerely commend AMCHAM on the work it is doing to provide mentorship and empower women. My remarks today will focus on the 2024 International Women’s Day theme – Inspire Inclusion – as we start this day of engagement with each other, and sharing of ideas, experiences, and best practices.

If you would have told the younger me that I would one day be in the C-Suite, I would never have believed you. As a teenager I had very limited self-confidence – let me be honest and say it was practically nonexistent – and didn’t think that there was any point to me raising my voice. The idea of standing on a stage giving remarks to an audience of this size and caliber would have had me firstly turning bright red, and then running for cover! I also – and maybe some of you can relate – had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Looking back now, I can see that this started to change when I joined the world of work at Scotia and was fortunate enough to find two strong and supportive female role models. Two very different but equally amazing ladies, who told me that I was smart, that I had a great career ahead of me, and who supported me in every way you could think of – including pushing me out of my comfort zone to make sure I had a chance to develop into the best version of myself. I’ll tell you I didn’t appreciate that part of it at the time – but now I can clearly see how it helped me develop into where I am today.

Now, a double-digit number of years later, I am an extremely proud member of the Scotiabank family, where we live the belief that support and inclusion for women is so much more than just the day that we celebrate on March 8th. We are dedicated to being active allies to women 365 days a year, which includes our female employees, our clients and our community members. This is put in to practice not just through our Scotia Foundation, but also through our culture, our values, our policies and our conscious awareness of inclusion as a priority focus for all of us in the organization.

I would like to briefly touch on 3 points.

Designing for inclusion

First up – designing for inclusion. How does one do this? It’s our view that inclusion is achieved by continued, conscious, structural and behavioural changes. It requires investments in designing initiatives, policies, frameworks and monitoring mechanisms, which are necessary elements to support the inclusion that you want to achieve. We all know that everyone is different, with different opinions, knowledge, and skills. So, is it fair to expect all employees to thrive in the same kind of environment? For women as well, no one journey is the same, be it for single or married women, those with dependents and those without, those now starting out and those who are nearing the end of their employment journey. Workplaces and initiatives need to be designed to support a variety of these different needs and circumstances. Every aspect from hiring, retention and promoting policies, unconscious bias training, flexibility around work schedules, parental and family leave policies are all ways we can reflect that we have an inclusive work environment. This encourages all of us to feel comfortable at the workplace, which can then let us bring our best selves to work – which in turn can be the greatest path to success.

All of these structures and initiatives however, must be anchored – and I can’t emphasize this enough – by a very strong leadership commitment to a culture of inclusion. This calls for executive leadership to set that tone from the top – not once, but over and over again – and reinforce it by walking the talk. Oftentimes, well-intended diversity and inclusion practices fail or do not take off when leaders at the top do not embrace it. Research shows that inclusive leaders demonstrate six key traits: – six C’s – commitment, courage, cognisance of bias, curiosity, cultural intelligence, and collaboration. For all leaders – whether men or women – practicing these behaviors can foster a more inclusive work environment in the long-term.

I’m happy to be able to share a few examples of the initiatives that we have undertaken at Scotia to promote inclusion. First up, we’ve enhanced our maternity and paternity leave – maternity is now at a whopping 16 weeks and paternity at 8 weeks. I was personally very sorry to have just missed out on that 16 weeks but so happy that those coming after me will benefit. I am also particularly proud of a related initiative – we have recently introduced lactoriums in our larger office spaces, so nursing mothers can return to work with a dedicated and private space to support their breastfeeding journey. We also have a specific Employee Resource Group focusing on advancing inclusion for women, where we leverage the 25 global women’s groups across our international footprint to share best practices. We are really happy that at our most recent employee check-in, 93% of us believe that Scotiabank is committed to building an inclusive workplace.

Role of Allyship

My second point – the role of allyship. Being an effective ally means actively advocating for each other, so we rise together. I am happy to see the number of men participating here today. Men can be and often are, fantastic allies in the workplace, helping to advance a culture of inclusion by taking intentional, positive action to promote and support a group they are not a part of. We would not be truly working towards inclusion if we left men out of these conversations. Men can also be passionate advocates for gender equality, often inspired by the experiences of the women in their lives – mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and nieces, among others – but also often driven by an innate sense of equity and a recognition of the value that diverse perspectives can bring.

Empowering the Next Generation

My last point – empowering the next generation. As a female leader, and looking back on my own career journey and the support provided to me that I spoke about earlier – I understand that we have a responsibility to empower the next generation of female leaders. This can begin with a few simple things – such as being curious about individuals on your team, uncovering what excites and motivates them, and helping them recognize and realize on their own strengths. It can also be the simple act of consciously inviting others around a table who may not be speaking, to share their point of view on a conversation or giving them opportunities to share their knowledge with others. Ensuring you have good opportunities for people to learn or improve skills, mentorship programmes, and implementing recognition and rewards that acknowledge amazing work are a few other practical items that can be done to foster leadership development. 

Building a truly inclusive organization is never complete, but I am so happy that we are well on the road to continue this journey with all the other amazing partners who share these views. Ladies and gentlemen, let us continue to advocate for women, and for inclusion, every day of the year. 

I thank you for your kind attention.