By Lynn Heckler
While Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) programs have been around for decades, they have frankly 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.
Research shows that gender- and ethnically-diverse companies are more likely to outperform the national industry median, yet we have not systemically embraced D&I as a competitive business imperative.
As credit union CEOs retire over the next decade and the radical U.S. demographic shift continues, there is a distinct window of opportunity to reshape the face of leadership in the credit union industry. The industry is ready for a different level of dialogue around diversity, equity and inclusion, one that is focused on practical solutions for building a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Our commitment to the cooperative principles uniquely positions credit unions to be an industry with a deep dedication to diversity and inclusion.
Where to Start?
So where should we start?
When it comes to implementing D&I, many leaders start by increasing the number of diverse hires. In actuality, they would be better served by first adjusting their culture. Intentionally building an inclusive environment is the foundation for all D&I efforts to become sustainable. Inclusion is different from diversity and goes beyond simply having a diverse pool of employees. Inclusion is about engaging diverse employees to fully contribute to your credit union’s success. Without an inclusive culture, credit unions will likely experience retention challenges with their diverse employee base. If a credit union’s culture does not welcome diverse backgrounds, experiences and ideas, diverse talent will likely look for a company that does.
Key Questions to Ask
But what does an inclusive culture look like, and how can credit unions begin to move in that direction? Here are a few key questions to consider when building an inclusive culture:
- Are the CEO and executive team committed to D&I as a business strategy?
- Do your employees truly have equal access to rewards, opportunities and resources?
- What type of behavior do you reward? Pay special attention to the behavior of senior leaders.
- How do you make decisions about promotions?
- Are you committed to fair and equal pay practices?
- Do you seek out diverse voices for project teams and in decision making?
- Are diversity practices imbedded into hiring and succession planning activities?
Once the commitment exists to embark on the journey to create an inclusive culture, there are many ways to take D&I to the next level. PSCU created an Inclusion & Diversity Steering Committee that has been instrumental in progressing D&I efforts. The steering committee created a strategic plan and helps support PSCU’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that really bring inclusion to life within the organization.
There are many strategies to tangibly advance D&I initiatives, but they all must start with the solid foundation of an inclusive culture. True executive sponsorship, not just permission, is a key ingredient for the culture change required to make inclusion part of your credit union’s DNA. Find your champions within the credit union to help drive these tactics, but ensure that executive sponsorship remains consistent and strong.
Be persistent. Culture change is hard, but small, intentional changes can make a huge difference.
Lynn Heckler is responsible for the functions that define PSCU’s culture and employees’ work experience. She joined PSCU in 2001 and has over 25 years of experience in human resources management. In 2015, Lynn was recognized with the SHRM Florida Professional of the Year Award.