Meeting customer needs means understanding the communities and people you serve. This has been a core strategic approach for Scotiabank for many years.
Like other employers at the Syrian Refugees Jobs Agenda Roundtable, convened by Hire Immigrants, Scotiabank has a longstanding commitment to workforce diversity. According to Maureen Neglia, Vice President of Human Resources, Global Recruitment, it has always made strategic sense. Ensuring Scotiabank has a workforce that reflects the people and communities it does business with is a logical strategy.
Neglia says the Bank is continually improving recruitment, promotion and employee development approaches to ensure they are barrier-free. Scotiabank teams, committees and groups are a diverse mix of employees with broad-based skills and diverse perspectives that create better workplace solutions, products and services for customers.
Scotiabank’s commitment to diversity and inclusion made joining the Syrian Refugees Jobs Agenda Roundtable an obvious strategic choice. Neglia says the Bank wanted to make sure that it was one of the first to the table to say ‘we’re here for you.’ Every individual that comes to Canada has unique needs and challenges in terms of integrating into the workforce. Connecting with other employers and community partners that work directly with refugees helped Scotiabank understand some of these needs and how to accommodate them, as well as identify the unique skills they possess.
At Scotiabank, each potential refugee hire is looked at individually to determine not only the best fit for their skill set, but also how their progress can be most effectively supported. For example, the Bank often finds that language skills can be a challenge among some refugees. As an open, inclusive employer, Scotiabank provides language skills training at no cost to employees who need that support.
Externally, Scotiabank employees actively work with local organizations, as mentors, at job fairs, and as a way to find talent for Scotiabank. Employees benefit from these leadership and coaching opportunities. Their efforts help newcomers, but also can lead to scouting skilled individuals and bringing new talent to the Bank.
For Issam Bahlawan, connecting with a Scotiabank mentor was an important part of his success. Bahlawan arrived in Canada as a refugee claimant after a long journey from Syria to Dubai to Texas, and then Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
Arriving in August 2016, Bahlawan and his family had already exhausted the majority of their savings. It wasn’t until October 2016 that Bahlawan and family were approved as refugees in Canada. In that time, it was difficult to access settlement and employment services typically available for eligible newcomers. Bahlawan instead took it upon himself to connect with local community organizations and the local Syrian population.
Through the Newcomer Centre of Peel, Bahlawan made some connections and became more familiar with his new community and its culture. After he and his family were approved as refugees, he was able to access useful employment support services at COSTI Immigrant Services, and was connected to the Refugee Career Jumpstart Project (RCJP). Through RCJP, Issam was connected with mentor Ryan Vine, a Recruitment Consultant in Diversity at Scotiabank. Vine counselled Bahlawan, saw his potential and helped orient him to the Canadian banking system
Vine guided Bahlawan’s application into Scotiabank and after a rigorous hiring process, Bahlawan was hired as a Financial Advisor in March 2017, working at a Waterloo, Ontario branch. Though Bahlawan is an experienced banker, in many ways he is starting over in the industry but sees potential for a future at Scotiabank. He is determined to get promoted within a year and continue to progress in his chosen career.
Neglia says Bahlawan’s story is a great example of the talent and potential Scotiabank is finding among Syrian refugees. The valuable skills, experience and connections they bring make Scotiabank richer as both an employer, and as a business. As part of the Scotiabank workforce, they are able to help design, offer and provide services for the community, and beyond.
Many employers may not have internal resources to effectively support hiring refugees, but there are community organizations that can help. Reaching out to community groups that are actively trying to find employment for these individuals will help employers to better understand how to accommodate the newcomers. Community partners not only connect employers to the talent available, they will also help employers design recruitment practices to reflect those unique needs to bring into their companies.
It’s a strategic advantage, Neglia says, but it’s also the right thing to do. By building more inclusive workplace practices, companies will connect with new markets and communities. They’ll also benefit from better products and solutions when their workforce reflects and seeks to serve new diverse markets. There is no downside.
Tips for making it work for you
- Make the commitment to diversity and inclusion. It is increasingly a strategic advantage to ensure your workforce represents the communities you serve.
- Connect with local organizations. It is likely that there are local organizations serving communities that can provide support. They can help connect recruiters with a flow of job-ready candidates and be a place where your employees can volunteer, mentor and recruit potential talent.
- Learn about the unique needs of refugees, be accommodating. Bahlawan says not to assume refugees understand anything about Canada or your company. They want to be more educated in Canadian culture and society. They bring skills and experience, but they also need help becoming more familiar with Canadian industries. Your employees can be that conduit to knowledge, while scouting the talent refugees bring.
- Challenge stereotypes about refugees. Bahlawan says that many people think they are poor and helpless. “I’m a refugee, but I’m sponsoring myself. I was self sufficient from day one, taking care of myself and family. We are working or trying to work, we’re adding value to the community. We have to change the stereotype around the word ‘refugee.”
Read more Success Stories from the Syrian Refugees Jobs Agenda Roundtable