As the banking sector faces considerable challenges, Scotiabank’s Alberta G. Cefis discusses how women hold the key to advancing their own careers and delivering a fresh leadership approach to the financial services industry.
Q: You’ve earned many honors as a successful ‘woman in banking.’ How do you feel about this title?
A: I am humbled by the fact that I am recognized by my peers. I am proud of my career choice in financial services and have been fortunate to experience success along the way.
Most importantly as a woman in banking, I am focused on being a leader with vision who can develop and articulate strategy, win the hearts and minds of employees, and empower high performing teams to execute and deliver sustainable value.
I also feel I have an obligation to support and encourage the next generation of female financial services leaders within Scotiabank and within the broader industry.
Q: Tell us about the challenges that remain for women in the world of banking.
A: Despite great strides, a male dominated culture still exists, where men and women with similar traits – including ambition – are not necessarily judged as equals.
While the banking sector has made diversity and inclusion a priority over the past decade, with specialized advancement of women programs and HR policies such as flexible work options, there is still much to do. While the number of women in middle management has grown, it remains a man’s world at the top. For example, in Canada, only 17-20 per cent of executive roles are held by females. I feel confident that we will see more senior roles occupied by women; the question is how quickly. As the leader of Scotiabank’s Global Transaction Banking division, more than 45 per cent of executive positions in my unit are held by women.
Q: You’ve been an energetic supporter of women’s advancement, particularly through mentoring. Is this the best way for women to build their careers?
A: Mentoring played a big part in my career and I recommend it to others, but with the caveat that not all mentoring is created equal. That was also the premise of a Harvard Business Reviewarticle, entitled “Why men still get more promotions than women.” It argued that real sponsorship is key to a mentee’s success. This means that the mentor must not only give feedback and advice, but also use their influence with senior executives to advocate for the mentee. It seems that high potential women are often over-mentored and under-sponsored, relative to their male peers. I keep this in mind as a mentor, and I’d advise women to seek solid sponsors and be mindful that sponsors and mentors are often different people.
Q: What other advice can you provide to females in this profession?
A: For anyone striving to build a career in a competitive industry, I still recall the premise of Tom Peters who wrote, “The brand called you” in Fast Company. Peters said that individuals are as much a brand as Nike or Coke. Thus, you should identify the qualities that make you distinctive from your colleagues. For women, we shouldn’t have to emulate men, but instead build our own areas of differentiation. I feel that my three points of differentiation are my abilities to: articulate a compelling vision and translate it into strategy, build high performing teams, and deliver through faultless execution.