Empowering Women Entrepreneurs


Gillian Riley, President & CEO of Tangerine, is on a mission to help strengthen the opportunities and support available to women-led businesses in Canada.

While these enterprises represent over $117 billion in economic activity and employ over 1.5 million Canadians, they only receive 4% of venture capital dollars in Canada, and receive a disproportionately low percentage of debt funding. Research has shown that the challenges women business leaders face are partly due to unconscious bias: social stereotypes about certain groups that individuals form outside of their conscious awareness.

"This is all about helping women grow their businesses. We're helping to give them support and knowledge to succeed." - Gillian Riley

That’s something Riley wants to address through The Scotiabank Women Initiative™, which launched in December 2018. Over her nearly 25-year career at Scotiabank, Riley and her teams have helped many entrepreneurs start or build their businesses. Now, through The Scotiabank Women Initiative, Riley is leading a push to address unconscious bias and close the support gap through a comprehensive program of financing, mentorship, and education for women business owners and leaders. 

A Fresh Solution

To get The Scotiabank Women Initiative™ off the ground, Riley had to demonstrate the importance of the program to a wide range of stakeholders.

“We did a lot of work over nine months to ensure The Scotiabank Women Initiative™ is relevant to women business leaders and will be effective in helping them succeed,” says Riley. “The program is informed by academics, business leaders, and our own executives and front-line teams. It’s so important that we don’t just pay lip service to this issue – we have to make a difference.”

The Scotiabank Women Initiative has three core pillars:

  • Access to Capital - Scotiabank is empowering its sales force to deploy capital to support the growth of women-led businesses--from small businesses to mid-market enterprises. The Scotiabank Women Initiative™ helps ensure equal access to a full suite of financing solutions through a dedicated team of credit adjudicators trained in mitigating unconscious bias. All women business owners/leaders deserve to leverage a financial partner to help support their growth.  
  • Mentorship - An Advisory Board made up of women and men with deep experience in financial services has been created to help women grow their business through facilitated small groups and one-on-one mentorship sessions. These sessions will address real, topical business challenges and complex business situations.
  • Eduction – In cross-Canada Un-Mentorship Boot Camps™, Scotiabank will hold a series of sessions that will explore business-focused issues like finance, business planning, and buying or selling a business. The sessions will be led by successful women leaders, Advisory Board members, and Scotiabank executives.

As well, Scotiabank is partnering with Disruption Ventures, Canada’s first private female-founded venture capital fund for women entrepreneurs. Through this partnership, Scotiabank has committed funds to Disruption Ventures and will assist with deal flow, marketing initiatives and educational content to support women entrepreneurs. “Funding female entrepreneurs is what drives tangible change,” says Riley. “Our partnership with Disruption Ventures is another way for us to expand access to capital and deliver on our promise.”

What’s Next

What drives Riley is the fact that there are entrepreneurs and women business leaders who could really benefit from The Scotiabank Women Initiative. More established business owners are cheering her on. Years ago, Helen Milic, RMT and her business partner were flat-out refused a loan by a financial institution to establish their clinic. Today, Milic is co-owner of Bayview Sheppard RMT in Toronto, and sees a lot of positive in The Scotiabank Women Initiative. “We have grown every year as a business and as entrepreneurs, and we had to do it the hard way,” she says. “Thank you Scotiabank for offering this opportunity for women. We wish our fellow entrepreneurs much success!”

The success of The Scotiabank Women Initiative is also deeply personal to Riley. She knows how profoundly unconscious bias can affect a woman business leader – and she is invested in seeing the program soar. The Scotiabank Women Initiative has the potential to leave a lasting mark, and make Scotiabank the lender of choice for women-led businesses across Canada.

The Scotiabank women initiative has the potential to leave a lasting mark, and make Scotiabank the lender of choice for women-led businesses across Canada.

“I brought my parents to the launch event for The Scotiabank Women Initiative™ because I wanted them to see what’s possible when a bank makes a choice to do something better,” says Riley. “As we grow and learn, we’ll look at opportunities to expand the program into other areas of business and other countries. There’s just so much potential here – and I’m thrilled we’ve started on this journey – this will make a difference for entrepreneurs for Canada.”

If you are a women-led business, we welcome you to learn more about the program at scotiabankwomeninitiative.com

Participation in The Scotiabank Women InitiativeTM or any program-related events does not constitute advice or an offer or commitment by Scotiabank to provide any financial products or services. ™ Trademarks of The Bank of Nova Scotia, used under licence.

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