CUNA News is running a series of Q&As with African American credit union leaders around the country in honor of Black History Month.
Ashley Beach Reid is a senior manager, lending operations at SECU, Linthicum, Md. She has been in the credit union industry for 13 years.
Q: What inspirational story or contribution from the African American community do you reflect on during Black History Month?
A: This year, it has been Nina Simone’s life story. She was an extraordinarily gifted pianist who at a young age began to use her position of power to influence how her own parents were treated at her concert. She had door after door closed in her face as she attempted to hone her gifts at world renowned schools of arts just because of the color of her skin.
I wouldn’t expect anyone to experience that amount of rejection she experienced and be sane! But through her gifts, she prevailed and shared her talent with the world, she influenced the masses, she opened doors for other artists, and she spoke her truth.
She most definitely was unapologetically black and though she was robbed of opportunities, what was gifted to her in talent overflowed. We are still impacted today by her music and contribution to the civil rights movement.
Q: Tell us about a hurdle that you overcame during your career and how it shaped your drive to succeed.
A: As a new manager, I learned the hard way that your mentor may not be your immediate manager. As a young novice leader, I was told, “If you are looking for someone to give you tips on how to be successful in your role and coach you, you’re going to have to find someone else – no one has time to do that here!”
I learned that my supervisor (at the time), didn’t believe in coaching or mentoring his staff, or advocating for them. The focus was just on doing as much work as possible any given day while keeping cost low – the people were an afterthought.
Everyone has their own journey before you meet them and so you must respect it (their journey). There were moments of solitude as I had to determine what was next and how to do adequately lead a group of people, but not for long.
I looked up steps to identifying a mentor, started reading leadership books, and called my mom. My mother’s words were “You first have to not expect You from other people!” That was the beginning of me having a true desire to embrace other’s unique contributions and ensuring that anyone I had the opportunity to lead, was sharpened by our encounter.
I found a few mentors for various stages of my life as well.
No matter how gloom it may look, there is always a positive shining through! Beauty can always be found when you are looking for it.
Q: What does diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) mean to you?
A: It means Intentionality. DEI is an invitation for everyone to be represented and have “a seat at the table” in order for our tomorrow to be much brighter.
Q: Why should DEI matter to the credit union movement?
A: The credit union industry was started under the concept of “people helping people” and “serving the underserved”. To think that underserved communities don’t represent a diverse group of people would be impractical.
These communities just don’t have one face and one name, they have different names, ages, genders, pronouns, abilities, ethnicities and financial needs.
If the credit union movement is looking for longevity, bringing a diverse group of people together that represent these underserved communities will better allow for us to know how to serve them! And know: representation always matters.
Q: What is one way your credit union is serving underrepresented communities?
A: SECU is a service driven organization that fully embraces the credit union philosophy of "People Helping People." We are committed to our members and the communities we serve, so we encourage our employees to engage with the community through volunteer service.
I could literally list all of the ways we are impactful to our community but SECU’s commitment to supporting volunteer service through community hours for employees is huge!
Q: What piece of advice would you give to other professionals in the credit union movement?
A: Do what you do well and then show someone else how to do it! Often, we are concerned with someone taking our spot or outshining us but that is what another great individual will do. We need to always be ready to make room for greatness.
Q: How can credit unions best serve their members from diverse backgrounds?
A: Credit unions can best serve their members from diverse backgrounds but understanding their various financial needs and meeting them where they are with safe and well thought out products and services.
Q: How do you promote diversity and inclusion within your organization or in your personal life?
A: Within my organization, I take the time to share my observations on where our opportunities are to be more intentional with employees. With the team members I’ve built relationships with, I have the direct and tough conversations around DEI.
In my personal life, I’m a member of the African-American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC), whose mission is: "To increase diversity within the credit union community through advocacy and professional development."
I am also intentional about the church I attend, i5city, where we believe in ‘living, loving, and laughing beyond our preferences’.