As we celebrate International Women’s Day and approach the one-year mark since the pandemic forced us to change much of the way we work and live, we are shining the spotlight on women executives who hold crucial leadership roles and have led their teams and the Bank steadily through these unprecedented times. 

In their own words, they explain the challenges they faced during the crisis, how they overcame them, and what others can learn from their experiences.

Headshot of Barb Mason

Barb Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced during the crisis and how did you overcome it?

A: The biggest challenge I faced and continue to face is needing to make fast decisions without all of the answers. Early on, we had to move quickly to enact our business continuity plans – sending more employees to work remotely without testing the technology, while considering we run a complex business with regulatory requirements on where and how our business is conducted. Then there was the uncertainty of the disease itself – we didn’t know how many people would or will get sick, and how sick they would get, but we had to be ready to be there to support them every way we could. And we’re still in it, but we are now being impacted in different ways, ranging from pressure on mental health and ongoing pandemic fatigue.  I would say we overcame this by consulting widely across the business to quickly gather as much data as we could, and most importantly, by always putting our people first. 

Q: Based on what you learned, what advice would you give to others when dealing with a crisis?

A: Every learning, experience, and relationship built up until that point are tools in your arsenal – you’ve got this. Be honest with yourself about what you don’t know and seek out counsel from those who do. Move nimbly and quickly, while still taking the time to bring others along with you. Gather data as quickly as possible and make decisions by combining that data with your own experience and judgment.

Headshot of Tracy Bryan

Tracy Bryan, Executive Vice President, Global Operations

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced during this crisis and how did you overcome it? 

A: One major challenge at the onset of the crisis was the need to make timely decisions when the data available was limited, ambiguous, constantly in flux and at times differing between experts. We knew little about what would later be called COVID-19 and declared a global pandemic, nor was the eventual magnitude of the crisis apparent. We needed to determine the correct course of action for our customers and employees across our global footprint quickly when there was no clear path. In response, we developed a clear set of guiding principles for the Bank – placing our customers’ needs and the health and safety of our teams at the centre – and used them as a lens for every decision. This enabled us to proceed decisively and confidently, knowing that we might not have all the facts. 

We built check-ups into our plan and constantly evaluated our strategy, evolving as needed. We listened to teams working remotely, those working on Bank premises serving our customers and continuously solicited feedback from employees through surveys and focus groups. This gave us important insight into what was and wasn’t working so we could make adjustments quickly. Looking back, I think we acted quickly and made a number of really good decisions.

Q: Based on what you learned, what advice would you give to others when dealing with a crisis? 

A: Don’t try to manage a crisis, lead through it. Every crisis is different and no matter how much planning may have been done, there will always be unique and unexpected challenges. Establish early on what you are accountable for and what can be delegated to your team. Don’t try to control every small detail, trust your people. Leading through a crisis is also about taking a longer view – following a set of guiding principles will help you avoid reacting to short-term external pressures. 

In a crisis, you don’t have the luxury of time to do further detailed analysis. We established early on that some decisions would be based on data and some on instinct. You need to trust your “gut” – an instinctive knowing built from years of experience – and pressure test your ideas. Listening to multiple perspectives, especially opposing points of view, is critical. When the time comes to make a call, trust your instinct, act quickly, and convey your decision with confidence.

Headshot of Nicole Frew

Nicole Frew, Executive Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer 

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced during this crisis and how did you overcome it?

A: As a bank, the most important challenge was ensuring that both our customers and employees had the support they needed. Everyone is dealing with this crisis differently and no one is untouched. Our biggest challenge and our biggest opportunity was to respond quickly and ensure that the trust we have built over the past 189 years didn’t waiver. As a bank and as a compliance team, we met this challenge by partnering across areas of the bank to deliver relief programs that would give our customers peace of mind. 

Q: Based on what you learned, what would you say to others when dealing with a crisis?

A: Navigating through a crisis of this magnitude is new to all of us. There is no part of the world that has not been impacted by COVID 19. The pandemic has, in many ways, turned people’s lives upside-down both personally and professionally.  One thing that I have learned is that the importance of communication can’t be overstated. It’s critical.  Be as transparent as you can.  You may not have all the answers. That’s ok.  But if you communicate what you know (and what you don’t know), you will earn the trust of those around you. Focus on the things that you can control and put people first.  Pull in your support system and stick to a routine (for me, that includes a regular workout).  The last thing I will say is, “bet on yourself”. What you are capable of will astound you.  We have seen so many examples of Scotiabankers across our footprint, across levels, doing the extraordinary.  It has made me so incredibly proud to be part of our Bank.

Headshot of Loretta Marcoccia

Loretta Marcoccia, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer (COO), Global Banking and Markets

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced during this crisis and how did you overcome it?

A: At the outset of the pandemic, we were able to quickly enact our Business Continuity Plan working environment with teams working at three locations – one at the office, one at our backup site, and one at home. One of the biggest challenges was to continue to meet the regulatory requirements in a home environment while providing seamless support to our clients. We also worked hard to ensure our teams stayed connected, virtually, so that we could support them through the many unknowns during the early days of the pandemic. We were committed to providing consistent and transparent communications – being clear about what we knew and honest when we didn’t have the answers. Looking ahead, we are focused on the re-entry plan for Global Banking and Markets and working with our partners to explore the future way of work and how we make the transition from where we are now to where we need to be.    

Q: Based on what you learned, what would you say to other women dealing with a crisis?

A: Crises come in all forms. This pandemic has affected each one of us differently, on both a personal and a professional level. In this instance, I think it is critical for each of us to acknowledge the challenges we are facing individually. Make time for yourself and make your mental health and wellbeing a priority. If you need support, I encourage you to reach out to family, friends or local community support groups. In a broader sense, the “unknown” can provide us with opportunities to focus on the most important aspects of our career or personal life. In those instances, I encourage you to set one ambitious but achievable goal for the year ahead which can help you prioritize and focus without feeling overwhelmed. We may need to modify the goals we had a year ago, but with every small step, we are a step closer to achieving our goals.