By Sarah Kelsey
“Every person needs to have a purpose,” Meigan Terry, the SVP and Chief Sustainability, Social Impact and Communications Officer at Scotiabank, says. “I’ve been able to realize mine in part by working with companies that are committed to doing good for the communities that they serve.”
Meigan says she discovered her desire to affect change at an early age through participation in student government. The experiences taught her confidence to use her voice and helped her uncover key issues she was passionate about. She also learned how to stay calm under pressure, weave a storyline to encourage engagement among followers, and communicate effectively.
These are skills she now leverages every day in her role at Scotiabank.
“My team plays a key role in that we align a multitude of stakeholders, inside and outside the Bank, to create positive outcomes for the communities that we live and work in. When we do our jobs well, that work helps to build pride in our employees while also making our customers feel proud that they bank with Scotiabank,” Meigan says.
Upon joining the team in 2018, her first task was to solidify the organization’s purpose. The result was a singular focus that now acts as a “red thread” for the 190-year-old institution: for every future. “It works for the Bank on many levels. Collectively, we’re here to enable every future. We also need to be ready for every future, including pandemics, climate change and so much more. But on an employee level, it can be bespoke and personal to every Scotiabanker depending on the individual contribution you make every day for the Bank.”
From there, she played a leadership role in launching three of the company’s social impact programs: ScotiaRISE, Allyship, and the Bank’s Sustainability program.
ScotiaRISE is a 10-year, $500 million initiative to promote economic resilience among disadvantaged groups so they can actively and successfully take part in the economy.
“We live in a country that is welcoming, supportive, and so multicultural, but not all systems are set up to help all people thrive,” Meigan says. “Communities face systemic challenges not just in Canada, but across Scotiabank’s footprint, and our ScotiaRISE initiative is designed to help remove these barriers and provide disadvantaged groups the support they need to participate fully in society and the economy. It works to open up opportunities and to help more people realize their potential across all the communities in which we operate.”
The Bank’s commitment to Allyship was developed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and the discovery of unmarked graves surrounding residential schools in Canada.
“We realized there was more to do to build employees’ understanding of the role they can play as allies and to ensure that all equity-deserving groups feel included at Scotiabank. We established a framework to ground our inclusion efforts: Listen, Educate, Act and Sustain, and a deliberate focus on enhancing our capabilities as allies,” Meigan says.
Working with many partners across the Bank, Meigan’s team built the Allyship program with the help of experts from the Centre for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at New York University and hosted an Allyship Summit for Change in January for 90,000 Scotiabank employees. Following the Summit, the team focused the Bank’s annual calendar of inclusion events on enabling employees to become better allies year-round.
“Everyone can be an ally and everyone can benefit from allyship. That’s part of why our commitment to allyship works — it’s inclusive and supportive and a program that brings our winning teams together at their highest levels to advance our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” she says. “We have to listen, get educated, and ask questions, so we can show up for one another in meaningful ways.”
Finally, Meigan and her team worked with partners across the bank to deliver Scotiabank’s Sustainability program. Addressing and mitigating the risks associated with climate change is the most important and pressing challenge for future generations but, she acknowledges, it can’t be done by one person, one company, or one government. It requires collaboration. Not only is Scotiabank committed to mobilizing $350 billion in climate-related capital by 2030, the Bank’s leaders also now work to ensure the business and their initiatives — from the clients they take on to the output within their buildings — will transition to net zero emissions. “Businesses can show up in a way that mitigates climate risk. We have to work together for everyone’s future.”
Prior to Scotiabank, Meigan’s dedication to purpose — ensuring others find theirs, living hers, and bringing it to an organization — made her a sought-after leader on an international level. She began her career as a director at Hill & Knowlton in London, UK, then moved to BlackBerry where she held marketing, communications, and corporate affairs roles across Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. She also worked alongside Sir Richard Branson as the Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communications at Virgin Atlantic Airways.
Throughout her extraordinary career, Meigan says there are a few guiding principles that have helped her achieve success, both personally and professionally.
“Look for the opportunity to make your own impact in every new task and challenge, and avoid being a skeptic by default. There is an opportunity to make your own positive impact in everything you do, whether that’s in student government, parent council, or by volunteering for a committee at work. People should never let fear hold them back. Fail fast and fail early. You’re only going to grow and learn so much.”
The second is to believe in and support the success of others as though it is your own. “Nothing happens in silos,” Meigan notes. “Be an ally for someone else’s success and take people along with you in your own success. We don’t live in a zero-sum world and there is always more opportunity when we align together than we first realize alone.”
Finally, “be right at the end of the meeting, not the beginning,” she advises. “When it comes to partnership and collaboration, going in with an open mind is absolutely essential. If you use all of your energy to advocate for your own viewpoint without actively listening to those around you, you will miss out on key learnings and opportunities to do things bigger and better.”
And of course, “start with your purpose — it will be your guidepost for your big decisions and a powerful gauge for impact and accomplishments. That’s where you will make your mark.”
This article was first published in Women of Influence and is republished with permission.