This article first appeared in the December 3 edition of the National Post.
By Denise Deveau
Postmedia Content Works
TD Bank has had a long-standing tradition of promoting and supporting diversity and inclusion within the workplace and beyond. It established its first diversity leadership council in 2005 to show its ongoing commitment in concrete ways. This year’s WXN winners are women who, in their own unique ways, have become agents of change, redefining leadership in a way that is transforming the enterprise culture on multiple fronts.
Nkechi Nwafor-Robinson, winner in the WXN Intact Professionals category, has never been one to be limited by functional boundaries or titles. The associate vice- president, technology solutions at TD Bank Group is also an entrepreneur, author, professional bodybuilder, podcast host and inspirational speaker.
From an early age, Nwafor-Robinson lived by the conviction that showing up, taking risks and doing one’s best are the keys to professional and personal success.
When she took on a directorship role in her thirties, she had never considered the uniqueness of her role as a woman in IT, she says. “I didn’t see that until I was invited to sit on a panel at IBM and was asked what it was like to be a woman in tech. For me it was always about being the only Black person in the room. I realized that as my career progressed, I never saw anyone who looks like me, so I took it upon myself to pave the path for others behind me.”
Much of her work focuses on women, particularly immigrants, where she engages in mentoring and invites others to do the same. Among other initiatives, she is a TD executive champion for the TRIEC Mentoring Partnership, a program that matches volunteer mentors with newcomers to Canada who share similar professional backgrounds.
She has also joined many tech communities to use her voice to benefit others. “Over time I have only gotten louder and bolder, working with women to help amplify their position in this world.”
She sees her current role at TD as a perfect fit. “When I came, I had no thoughts about committees or using my voice to motivate and empower others. I soon came to realize that leadership is not a title. It’s about taking the skills and abilities I have been blessed with and using them to galvanize and bring people together for a greater good.”
One moment of particular pride was when she spoke at a 2018 Women in Technology (WIT) recruiting event. “Four Nigerian women came up in awe of the fact that as a Canadian Nigerian I could truly be myself in a room where most do not look like me. I later felt compelled to help, started a mentoring group with them, and today that group has grown to 80 strong, immigrant women of mostly Nigerian descent.”
There’s a message on her vision board that she holds close to her heart: ‘The best way to become a billionaire is to help a billion people’. “To me that’s the domino effect for creating change in the world.”
WXN Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leaders category winner Naki Osutei describes herself as an intrapreneur who redefines leadership. Now associate vice-president of social impact (Canada), she was recruited to TD’S Corporate Citizenship in 2017 to help develop the TD Ready Commitment (TDRC).
Born in Ghana, her family came to Canada when she was two. She describes their first home in a high-rise apartment building in Toronto as exemplifying the diversity we celebrate in Toronto. “Just on our floor alone there were 12 different countries represented. We each had our unique immigration story.”
Arriving in Canada without any, her parents always stressed the power of building networks. That advice helped guide many of her career choices, she says. One of the most pivotal moves was choosing to work at not-for-profit organization CivicAction, despite having a more lucrative offer on the table. “It was one of the best career decisions I ever made and helped inform so many other amazing opportunities, including my current role at TD.”
In winning the WXN award, Osutei says society tends to focus on success. “But I don’t know that we talk about failure enough. Being fearless about failure is an important factor towards success.”
She discovered that at university after coming out of high school, where she excelled. “I transitioned from an environment where 80 per cent of the student body was of African, Caribbean or South Asian descent to one where there were only four Black people in a room of 800 students. That was a huge culture shock that I didn’t handle well.” Her grades suffered and she failed for the first time.
From that she learned that a failure in one part of one’s life doesn’t mean you have failed as a person. “So much of my life to that point had been defined by success. That lesson was really important and gave me the courage to move forward into even more challenging and unknown spaces.”
She now uses her own history and knowledge to help institutions redefine leadership and reimagine what it means for an institution to use its presence for social impact. “We are conditioned to recognize leadership from a very narrow composite of traits.”
The complexity of today’s social and economic problems require the recognition of a range of leadership approaches. “We wouldn’t have seen society’s reckoning with anti-Black racism without the leaders protesting in the streets, and we won’t see systems change without leaders inside of institutions using their networks, resources and influence to build a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable future.”
The legal landscape is where Jane Langford, senior vice-president, legal, is leaving her mark. In addition to her executive role leading the Canadian legal team, the winner in the WXN CIBC Executive Leaders category also chairs TD’s transgender and non-binary council, and is a member of the Bank’s LGBTQ2+ steering committee, where she serves as a powerful ally to the community within TD and beyond.
Langford’s passion for helping was ignited by her parents. “They were lifelong, civic-minded volunteers who taught me you can either sit on the sidelines or give of your time and treasures to make the world a better place. That had a gigantic impact on how I see my role in society.” For Langford, the most important part of leadership is the in-the-moment, on-the-ground decisions leaders are asked to make.
“Whatever my work, I navigate based on my values. Authenticity is important. Several times I have been at junctures where I have said, ‘this is who I am and who I want to be.’ It gives me both confidence and peace of mind.”
Oftentimes, career moves can demand an enormous amount of courage, she adds. “But you have to have the guts to just jump and take the opportunities when you see them.”
When TD recruited her, Langford says it was a pivotal moment in her career. “It was such an intriguing opportunity. To be a leader, not just a lawyer. I wasn’t even sure I was up for it. But I recognized it was a different path so why not see what it leads to?”
As a legal professional, she loves the process of analyzing facts and synthesizing them to create new opportunities and pathways, she says. “Lawyers are uniquely positioned to understand needs in society, because we often see vulnerable populations in our practices and the challenges they face.” This perspective guides her advice to the bank, both in respect of customers and colleagues.
Working with the people at TD has made Langford understand the challenges around what it means to be inclusive, she adds. “TD’S commitment to inclusion has challenged me positively: it’s more than thinking and believing; it’s about doing.”
Langford is a long-standing and passionate supporter of the United Way. “Toronto is my home. If you are a committed citizen, you have to see both the city’s strengths and vulnerabilities. United Way knits together all kinds of fabulous organizations to move the dial to make the city stronger by addressing the inequities.”