Diversity & Inclusion – Why Credit Unions Should Care

By Lynn Heckler, EVP, Chief Talent Officer

Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) programs have been around for decades, and frankly have created a limited amount of true positive impact. Credit union leaders have been trained on understanding the importance of diversity, but the overall progress of women and minorities into top leadership roles in larger credit unions continues to be tepid.

We know that gender-diverse and ethnically diverse companies are more likely to outperform their national industry median, but we’ve not systemically embraced D&I as a business imperative.

As credit union CEO retirements occur over the next 10 years, there is a window of opportunity to reshape the face of our industry leadership. I believe the credit union industry is ready for a deeper level of discussion, focused on tangible solutions to building a more diverse and inclusive workplace. The credit union industry’s commitment to the Cooperative Principles uniquely positions credit unions to be known as an industry with a deep commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.

So, where is the right place to start?

When it comes to implementing D&I, many leaders will go straight for increasing the number of diverse hires, but that’s actually not the best place to start. Begin by adjusting your culture. Intentionally building an inclusive environment is the foundation for all D&I efforts to become sustainable. Without an inclusive culture, you may experience retention challenges with your diverse employee base. If your culture doesn’t welcome diverse backgrounds, experiences and ideas, your diverse talent will likely look for a company that does. Before allocating resources towards diversifying your recruiting pipeline, focus on building an inclusive culture that attracts and retains diversity.

But what does an inclusive culture look like and how can we begin to move in this direction? Here are a few key questions to consider when building an inclusive culture:

  • Do our employees truly have equal access to rewards and opportunities?
  • What behavior is rewarded? Pay special attention to the behavior of senior leaders.
  • How are promotion decisions made?
  • Are we committed to fair and equal pay practices?
  • Are diverse voices sought out for project teams and in decision-making?

Once you have embarked on the journey to create an inclusive culture, there are many ways to take Diversity and Inclusion to the next level. At PSCU, we created an Inclusion & Diversity Steering Committee that has been instrumental in progressing our efforts. The I&D Steering Committee created a strategic plan and helps support our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that really bring inclusion to life in our organization.

There are many strategies to tangibly advance D&I initiatives, but they all must be layered upon the solid foundation of an inclusive culture. Be persistent. Culture change is hard, but small, intentional changes can make a huge difference.