By Ray Birch
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—Many more credit unions today are making certain there are female candidates in the mix when searching for a new CEO or executive, says Andrea Rusnak–but some obstacles remain.
The VP of account management at PSCU said that was not the case all that long ago, and it reflects the progress that has been made in the workplace for women’s equality.
“Five years ago, conversations about making sure enough female candidates are being considered may not have been forefront in hiring discussions, during board meetings, at conferences, at chapter meetings …,” said Rusnak, who recently was awarded an Emerging Leader Award at CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington. “For many levels of hiring, I am hearing if there are not enough female candidates at the table, credit unions have asked recruiters to go back and look to make sure there are more women candidates included.”
With Women’s History Month being celebrated during March, Rusnak spoke with CUToday.info as part of a series on female leaders within the credit union movement.
Rusnak reiterated that five years ago, those kinds of requests were not even happening.
How to Start
“I think it is much easier to have this conversation today than in the past,” said Rusnak. “Many more people are saying we need to have more women ready for the next-level positions. How do we get them ready for the C Suite? How do we start developing and mentoring women so they have the same opportunities as men?”
Changes are happening because organizations recognize having more women leaders can have a positive impact on the success of the organization, said Rusnak.
“There are statistics that show the more female leaders you have in the organization the more profitable you can be, that you have a greater chance of having a higher level of emotional intelligence and self-awareness in the organization,” explained Rusnak.
Credit to the GWLN
As part of that stronger push for equality in the workforce for over the last half decade, Rusnak credited the Global Women’s Leadership Network (GWLN) for playing a role, as well.
“When the GWLN started 10 years ago, it had very few people involved,” recalled Rusnak. “Now we have over 3,000 men and women members across the world. That is a huge change. The group has promoted the power and positivity of having women as part of the conversation, having more women at the leadership table…The GWLN has made a huge difference and impact within our industry. Just look at conferences today. We have a lot of breakout sessions for the GWLN, whereas years ago at meetings we had only small gatherings. The landscape has changed.”
But while progress has been made, Rusnak said that doesn’t mean no obstacles remain, and that includes the glass ceiling under which women are unable to progress into upper echelon jobs.
“It would be false to say it does not still exist. We wouldn’t be talking about it if it did not,” she said. “But the key thing is more people are talking about the glass ceiling today. More women are less afraid to break it. People are less afraid to ask questions of management and the board about why more women are not at the table.”
Rusnak does not believe the presence of a glass ceiling inside credit unions is dictated by asset size, noting many women lead billion-dollar CUs, and a woman, Mary McDuffie, leads the largest credit union in the nation, Navy FCU.
“I believe a lot just depends on if diversity is deeply ingrained in the leadership track of an organization,” said Rusnak. “I have talked to some credit unions in the past that have looked to promote women into the C Suite, and they said it’s one of their objectives to make sure they have diversity in their ranks.”
Fortunately, Rusnak said, she has not faced the glass ceiling in her career.
“I have had excellent mentors and executive sponsors who have recognized my talents,” she said. “But I don’t think they have supported me as much because I am female, but more so for my skills. I don’t think anyone in my career, behind closed doors has said we should consider her because she is female. I think I have been treated fairly across the board.”
Some of the best advice Rusnak has received from mentors is to never let a title get in her way.
“What they mean is don’t feel that if you are at certain level and you are not at the next level yet, that you can’t be seen making a difference in the industry. Go for the advisory board seat. I know several years ago when I first joined the Credit Union Executives Society, joining the CUES Council board for Southern California, my initial concern was I had a manager’s title at the time. A lot of my colleagues on the board had VP and other C Suite titles. I thought at the outset, will I be able to contribute? But what I found was I was able to contribute a lot, and because I was exposed to a lot of people with C-Suite roles I was able to grow faster and quickly prepare for my next, larger role in my career.”
Rusnak said advice from one mentor to always be ready for the next position and to make sure she connected with others outside her current organization contributed significantly to her growth as a leader.
“She told me it’s like dressing for that next-level position,” Rusnak explained. “Make sure you have those conversations, attend those conferences, and network, network, network. ‘Don’t be left out because you don’t want to be left off the bus,/ she said. I never forgot that.”