Sheila La Serna, chief legal officer, Profuturo AFP

Pension fund manager Profuturo AFP is part of Scotia Bank. CLO Sheila La Serna shares her passion for diversity and inclusion, her impact as a lawyer, and the work of the Bank’s inclusion committee in ensuring a level playing field among its ranks

The legal profession presents some challenges and opportunities for diversity and inclusion, since we have a special purpose: to attain justice and societal peace for the world. Maybe this is very idealistic, but in a world where conflict is commonplace, we need a lawyer profile. The corporate lawyer should be concerned about having a more diverse and inclusive organization, to understand their clients.

Capturing the zeitgeist

When I engaged in the private practice of law 20 years ago, nobody would talk about diversity and inclusion. We didn’t have maternity leave, we didn’t have a home office so you would have to stay very late in the law firm, and being a workaholic was the rule. 20 years later, things have changed. A new sense of societal demands for women and LGBTQIA+ communities has been captured within the legal profession, and now it is more concerned about diversity and inclusion in general, making the lawyers happier people, and we now have, for example, maternity leave for parents, and a soft landing after having your baby.

However, in 2016, there was a report issued by Women in the Profession (WIP) Peru, a group I am part of, about the proportion of partners in law firms by gender. I was very shocked with the results – we didn’t have parity in the partnerships of law firms; maybe 30% maximum were women.

Aside from the legal profession in law firms and in-house teams, we have academic panels, where until maybe 2017 or 2016, we had all male panels on academic legal topics. It’s something
that is changing – some companies and legal in-house teams have stated to set aspirational quotas of at least 30% women in panels.

Agents of change

I’m very engaged on diversity and inclusion topics – I really want to be, both as an individual and together with all the people around me with the same goals, to be an agent of change in society. I am a member of WIP, and Women CEO, a corporate organization that has a main goal of least 30% of women on boards by 2025. Unfortunately, even public companies that report to the market on their independent directors and so on have a great gap in terms women occupying the C-suite and leadership roles. I think the legal profession is a key profession for diversity, since they are legal and counsel to the whole company on these matters.

When it comes to my team, we are about 85% women. We get together every other day, and I try to have a special one-to-one meeting with each one at least once a month, about whatever makes them worry at the office or at their homes, just to hear their needs. I’m conscious that every person is different and sometimes they do not like to talk en masse. So, I have a very direct relationship with every member of my team.

In the pension fund industry, we participate as shareholders in meetings and committees for different investments that we are in. When we appoint directors, we try to make sure that at least one woman is included by the headhunters. When we look ourselves for directors to represent the pension funds through our in-house research, we like to always make sure that at least one woman is considered in the final group of three that is to be voted on.

I’m part of the inclusion committee at Scotia Bank. It’s one of the oldest diversity and inclusion committees in the financial sector in Peru and has been operating for more than ten years. It has a member that represents each of the different affiliates of Scotia Bank in Peru, and we try to hear the voice of every company, every member of the committee, and then try to issue similar standards and policies on gender and equality in the metrics, events, and workshops that we have.

In Scotia Bank, we have a culture of welcoming everyone. This is not limited to women, this is also extended to different ideologies, experiences, profiles, perspectives, and sexual options. And that diversity has proved to be one of our best assets because, during the pandemic, there was a lack of trust of the government, to the private sector, specifically the financial sector and pension funds, and so this has made us resilient with our clients, they will stick with the relationship because they feel comfortable, and that the corporation has empathy for them.

Pillars of inclusion

In the inclusion committee, we focus on three different pillars: gender equality, disability and the LGBT community. So these are the three pillars that support our different policies. Our strategy on diversity and inclusion fosters a culture of respect, of valuing all the differences and giving equal worth to equal talent. We recognize that we are all different biologically and physiologically, but, in terms of work and salary and opportunities, there should be no difference. That made us issue some policies on wage, salaries and to have equitable compensation packages.

In terms of the selection of staff, we try to do it very fairly in terms of diversity and inclusion. For example, when you apply for a job at Scotia Bank, you won’t have a chart to mark whether you are a woman or man, we only focus on what really matters – if you’re experienced, whether you have values that fit with ours. In our panels for the selection of staff, we have at least one woman and we have always a woman candidate or LGBT candidate as well in the selection (if they voluntarily mention what their sexual preference is).

We have inclusive communication – we have an inclusive language manual that helps us to address the different internal communications in a way that is open and diverse for everyone. We won’t say, ‘Hi there, women’, or ‘Hi there, men’, we would say, ‘Hi there, team’ – very slight words that we use to avoid discrimination and making people uncomfortable.

Check the X-ray

We also track the different initiatives that we have, because whatever you have on paper, you have to measure to make sure it is working. So we have an X-ray report on the different metrics that we use: for example, the number of women versus men that are scaling the corporate ladder, the number of women that have access to promotions. We conduct annual research where we ask people to tell us if they want to become an ally, or how they feel about the fact that Scotia Bank is focused on the LGBT community, if they really want to support the LGBT community. So we have a database of people who will really help us in closed groups to foster the initiatives targeting the LGBT community. Year by year, the percentage of people supportive of the LGBT community is increasing more than 20%.

We have a mandatory quota on disabled people. You can always accuse yourself, saying ‘Notwithstanding the fact that I have looked for disabled people to fit this job description, I haven’t found anyone.’ But we try to do our best, and include people with different types of disability, for example, auditory, visually or physically disabled people. That’s something we are very proud of. We’re still working on accessibility. I don’t think there are a lot of companies here in Peru that have special products for disabled people. But, for example, in Scotia Bank we have an app that reads the different functionalities aloud in Spanish, so you don’t have to actually read the app to make a transaction with the bank.

We have different programs to empower women, to break the glass ceiling, such as leadership skills, networking, and different models that you can engage in. They’re all virtual.

Those are some of the things that we’re working on, across the large spectrum of work we have done for diversity and inclusion.