By Ray Birch
WASHINGTON—As Americans prepare to mark Martin Luther King Day, one person is saying African-Americans who want to ascend to the CEO’s role at credit unions still face a “glass ceiling.”
Timothy Anderson, chairman of the African-American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC), told CUToday.info that progress is being made by African-Americans in attaining leadership positions at CUs, but it’s not enough.
“I would not want to be in any other industry,” said Anderson, who is CEO at the $40-million Government Printing Office FCU here. “But I want to work until we can see full progress. There has been some progress, but we need more. I think it’s an indictment if we don’t have more than 100 African-American CEOs among credit unions. I know credit unions are dwindling in number, but there is room for more African-Americans at the top of credit unions.”
Anderson noted the AACUC in 2017 did research and determined there were fewer than 50 African-American credit union CEOs. Anderson emphasized the finding was only an estimate, and following recent conversations with credit union leagues, he believes the number of African-American CU CEOs is approaching 100.
What has helped move the number higher are programs offered by the AACUC, Anderson said.
“We have our mentorship and professional development programs, and we hang our hat on developing new leaders here,” said Anderson. “We have been doing that since the organization started in 1999.”
Anderson said that in looking at the membership of the Coalition, he is proud of the work it has accomplished.
“We have some very influential African-Americans leading credit unions,” he said. “Some are heading billion-dollar credit unions. So we are pleased with that. But clearly the industry can do better.”
Anderson emphasized there needs to be greater awareness among credit unions that the AACUC has prepared many African-Americans to take leadership roles. He said that the AACUC has increased its efforts with the major trade associations, including an annual reception at the GAC during which the Coalition inducts new members into its Hall of Fame.
In 2017, the Coalition inducted Maurice Smith, CEO of $1.8-billion Local Government FCU in Raleigh, N.C., and vice chair of the CUNA board.
“We have been a training ground for African-American credit union CEOs,” said Anderson. “We are always on the job, positioning candidates around the country, making recommendations for those we know are ready to lead. Again, we just need greater awareness that we have dynamic African-American professionals who are ready run credit unions.”
Unfortunately, there continues to be barriers, said Anderson.
“Just like in any other industry, in credit unions, too, we have a glass ceiling that talented African-Americans bump up against,” he said.
Anderson said that the AACUC regularly speaks with credit unions looking for new leaders, learns what they are looking for in candidates, and makes sure those taking advantage of Coalition training programs receive those skills.
Anderson, who spent many years in the banking industry before coming over to credit unions, said the glass ceiling for African-American executives existed while he worked in banking and remains in place today. Before heading GPO FCU seven years ago, Anderson worked at the Treasury Department FCU as COO, and before that, at U.S. Senate FCU. He said the “people helping people” philosophy of credit unions drew him to the movement, and he believes, anecdotally, that it also is the reason for a greater number of African-American CEOs among credit unions than banks.
Anderson stressed that not all the work lies only in the hands of the Coalition when it comes to increasing the number of African-American CEOs within credit unions. It’s a point Anderson said he understood himself when he was aspiring to a leadership role.
“You have to prepare yourself for that next big role,” said Anderson, who took advantage of Coalition training as he progressed in his credit union career.
At the AACUC’s last planning session, each board member was asked why they thought they were sitting at the table.
“And every person said that they believed they were in the room, as leaders of credit unions, largely due to their professional development through AACUC programs,” said Anderson. “That, of course, is my story, too. It was the professional development programs and the mentorship, working with people who looked just like me and were running organizations. I believe my success is directly tied to being mentored by people like (the late) Hubert Hoosman (former CEO of Vantage Credit Union, St. Louis), Michael Hale (former CEO of Andrews FCU, Maryland), Bert Hash (former CEO at MECU of Baltimore), Pete Crear (former president of the World Council of Credit Unions) and others.”
Anderson suggested that the AACUC and all African-Americans in credit unions have to keep “our feet to the fire. Especially in the type of environment we are in. We are now seeing a turnback of some Civil Rights laws. If the country starts not valuing diversity and having people of color in certain positions, I think that will negatively affect our industry with respect to African-Americans becoming leaders.”
Knocking On The Door
But Anderson is optimistic. He believes the more the ACCUC develops African-American leaders and the more African-Americans keep knocking on the door for leadership posts, the glass ceiling will give way.
“I believe the way we will turn the corner is to continue to do the things we are doing but also to recruit more African-Americans as candidates for CEO positions,” Anderson said. “I like the way the NFL does it with the ‘Rooney Rule’ (named after Dan Rooney, the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers)—when you hire a new coach you have to include minority candidates. You have to look outside your comfort level for candidates, and look to organizations like the AACUC. I think the industry has to be conscious that we have to recruit better, because there are African-Americans out there who are qualified to become a CEO. However, if we continue to turn our heads to that I don’t know if we turn the corner at all.”