By Hailey Eisen

The story Elbia Castillo shares about the start of her career is almost too good to be true. In the mid 1990s, Elbia graduated with a degree in Economics from the University of Lima in Peru. At the time, she says, people of her generation in her country didn’t have a lot of choice when it came to career opportunities. “If an opportunity appeared, you’d take it,” she recalls. 

So, at 21 years old, armed with a lot of passion and big dreams, Elbia accepted a job on the stock market trading floor with Scotiabank Peru. “There I was, working in the stock exchange with 100 other people, 95 of whom were men. They didn’t even have a women’s washroom, but that’s a story for another time.” 

After the first week, Elbia had hardly closed any transactions, and realized that if something didn’t change she would lose her job very quickly. The issue — quite literally — was her inability to be heard. “The volume of my voice was the problem,” she says. “To close transactions, you had to be very loud.” 

Her father provided some wise advice, which in many ways set the stage for the rest of her career. “Translated roughly from Spanish, he said: ‘You’re a smart woman, you have a lot of dreams — you need to present yourself in a way that they’ll hear you.’ ” 

The next day, Elbia appeared in the stock exchange with a chair, climbed up onto it, and made them notice her. “I only needed that chair for a few days, and after that I started completing transactions, and shortly after, I became one of the best traders in the country.” By 24, she had become Head Trader of a Brokerage House.

To this day, Elbia leverages this example when she’s talking about the experience women and LGBT+ people often have when trying to advance their careers. “Often all that people need is an opportunity, and they are going to shine,” she says. For years, Elbia has been committed to helping  make those opportunities a reality. 

Until 2008, Elbia stayed in trading. When her third child was born and required special medical attention, Scotiabank offered her a one-year maternity leave. This was not the norm at the time in Peru and she felt very grateful for the time off to focus on her family. Through it all, Elbia says the most important thing to her has always been her kids. “My three kids, now teenagers, are my main achievement — they’re my everything.” Looking back, she feels very fortunate to have had leaders and an institution that provided a great deal of support, making it possible for her to do the work she loved while caring for her family at the same time. 

Upon returning to work, Elbia stepped into a new role and a new area within the bank, focusing on Internal Audits. Over the years, she continued to thrive in her career, holding a number of management positions; she loved the opportunity for learning and growth that it provided.

Most recently, Elbia and her family (her three teenagers, her husband, her mother, and their dog) left Peru for Mexico City so that Elbia could take on the position of SVP, Internal Controls & Information Security & Data Officer with Scotiabank Mexico. It was a big decision and a big move — one that they spent a lot of time thinking through. But in the end, Elbia says it was a great opportunity for all of them. 

Over the past 25 years, as Elbia’s career has evolved, she’s continuously made education a priority.  “I’ve always been a learner, there’s just too much to learn — I can’t stop,” she says, explaining that at any given time, she has a book in her purse and one in her car, and has often set a goal to read at least 50 books in a year. 

At a quick glance, Elbia’s LinkedIn profile confirms her commitment to learning, revealing more than 20 lines of educational experiences. Some of these credentials include an MBA from ESAN in Peru, a CRM (Certified Risk Manager) accreditation from the International Institute of Professional Education and Research (IIPER), and programs in Ethical Leadership from Harvard University, Leadership from Duke University, and Leadership for Women from Columbia University. She has also completed postgraduate studies in neurosciences with a focus on leadership, communications, and learning, and is currently studying psychotherapy. 

Everything Elbia learns through her studies, she finds ways to incorporate into her work and leadership. Most recently, these studies have influenced and guided her commitment to diversity and inclusion — an area that’s extremely important to her professionally and personally. 

As Chair of Scotiabank’s Corporate Inclusion Committee for the past six years, Elbia says she’s put the topic of DEI on the table, not only for the financial industry in Peru, but across industries as well. “The day we have equal rights and equal access, will be the day we don’t have to talk about this anymore — and that will be a much better world,” she says. “Until then, we have to talk about it, and train our people, and continue to do the work.”

Along with four other companies, Elbia and Scotiabank were at the forefront of founding Pride Connections, a network of organizations that promote inclusive work environments for the LGBT+ community in Peru, creating connections and fostering respect. 

“From the Bank’s perspective, our customers are at the centre of everything we do, and we must reflect the diversity of our customers within the bank and in our practices and services.” Sponsoring Scotiabank’s award-winning campaign Bienvenidos todos (Welcome All) was an important part of Elbia’s focus on inclusion. 

Inclusion, according to Elbia, is knowing and understanding that everyone is not the same nor should they be. In order to achieve real change, an organization must provide extensive training in DEI, examine unconscious biases, and change the promotion process to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity. “Scotiabank has for sure influenced a lot of othe companies in this region, and we continue to share much of what we are doing to influence change.” 

Elbia has also committed to the advancement of women within the organization through her work on Empowering Women, a program designed to increase the representation of women in senior positions through listening sessions, webinars, and networking. 

To bring this program to life, she drew upon her experience in the Women in Leadership program she participated in at Columbia University in New York. “I was the only woman from Latin America in this course,” Elbia recalls. “And when I arrived back in Peru, I turned to my advisors, my two daughters, and I asked them, why do you think girls and women are not achieving their goals in this country? And, they said to me that the first issue is that women aren’t often being heard and the second is they don’t have the networks or connections needed to get ahead.” 

Armed with this information and everything she’d studied in her course, Elbia helped launch the program, which began to alleviate some of these barriers for women. “More than 300 women took this course in Peru, and now it’s available in different countries where Scotiabank operates. I’m extremely proud of the impact it’s having.” 

In mentoring other women, Elbia finds true joy — during her career she says she’s personally mentored around 200 talented professionals. “I’m so lucky to have mentored so many women who inspire me to be a better person, to contribute to my community, and to lead with happiness on a daily basis,” she says. To all women, she offers this advice: “Anything is possible, you have to believe that. When amazing women achieve big roles and positions, they change the world for the better. Women need to ask for what they want, they need to raise their voices, and they need to make themselves heard.” 

This article was first published in Women of Influence and is republished with permission.