Susan Streifel’s introduction to credit unions came when, as a starving artist working at a credit reporting agency to make ends meet, she learned about a job at a credit union from a co-worker.
“I was asked two questions in the interview,” Streifel recalls, “Was I married? Did I have children?” When she answered “no” to both questions, she heard: “You’re hired.”
“I do think we’ve come a long way!” she adds, with a laugh. And Streifel has.
That initial credit union job was as a microfilm clerk. She’s now president of $97 million asset Woodstone Credit Union in Federal Way, Wash., and chairwoman of the CUNA Board of Directors.
Women have always played key roles in the U.S. credit union movement. But they’ve also faced challenges.
Roy Bergengren first met Louise (McCarren) Herring in 1934 while on the train to Estes Park, Colo., where delegates from across the country were gathering to organize a national association. Bergengren was infuriated the Kroger Company had sent “a young brat” to an important meeting.
So it’s progress that a recent Filene Research Institute report—“Five Challenges: Enhancing Women’s Leadership in Credit Unions”—reveals little overt bias or blatant discrimination against women.
Instead, researchers found “many small factors that eat away at career advancement for women in credit unions. Questions remain about the differential representation of men and women in leadership roles in credit unions. Gender matters.”
In the credit union industry, you’re more likely to find a woman at the helm if the credit union is less than $50 million in assets, according to CUNA’s 2015-2016 Staff Salary Report. At credit unions with more than $1 billion in assets, only one in five has a female CEO or president.
Executive recruiter David Hilton, president of D. Hilton and Associates Inc., notes when his firm conducts talent searches for credit unions, he sees a consistent pattern: 20% of the applicants are women and 20% of finalists and successful candidates also are women.
So what’s holding women back? The Filene researchers identified five challenges women face.
NEXT: A pipeline problem