CUNA News is running a series of Q&As with female leaders in the credit union movement in honor of Women’s History Month.
Tracie Kenyon is president/CEO of Montana’s Credit Unions, as well as chair of the Filene Research Institute, Treasurer of Western CUNA Management School and chairman of the Montana Credit Union League Group Benefit Trust.
She is a 2017 Eugene Farley League Leadership Award winner, 2009 Herb Wegner Award Winner, 2005 CUDE Volunteer of the Year, former American Association of Credit Union Leagues Board Chair, former National Credit Union Foundation Board Member and former Chair of the Credit Union Women’s Association. She just celebrated her 35th year working in the credit union movement.
Q: In honor of Women’s History Month, what does diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) mean to you?
A: To me, DEI means that everyone has a place at the table where all voices will be heard. And that when one of us with a seat sees someone without a seat, let’s enlarge the table to include them and then make sure we listen and act on what they say.
Q: Why should DEI matter to the credit union movement?
A: It’s in our DNA. We’re founded on cooperative principles and the ideal of “people helping people.” Notice that there aren’t any qualifiers in our commitment to people and the first cooperative principle is “open and voluntary membership.”
But it must be more than a couple of pledges that we make, we must obligate ourselves.
I love the Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” She reminds us that individuals’ matter, so when we stop seeing “groups” and start seeing “individuals,” our perceptions can change.
Q: Tell us about a hurdle that you overcame during your career and how it shaped your drive to succeed.
A: At my very first credit union job (I’ve worked for four credit unions and two state leagues), I was tasked with a computer conversion to move real estate loans from the mainframe to a standalone system. It was a huge task as we had about $30 million in the real estate portfolio, and I had to move them manually.
When I had finished inputting the loans to the new program, I was out of balance. I didn’t have a background in computers and really had no idea of how to make it right. So, I sat down with my manager and the credit union CEO and was honest about the situation. They were amazing.
I thought that I was going to get fired, but instead they gave me some resources to find the outage (which I eventually did).
I learned early in my career to own my mistakes, ask for help, and check my work along the way, all practices that I still employ.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to other professionals in the credit union movement?
A: Be your authentic self! You are the only one who can be the very best “YOU” so celebrate your uniqueness and use it to your advantage. Spend time understanding your strengths (check out Marcus Buckingham’s strength-finder work, and invest in yourself (soak up training, take classes, attend seminars, and read). Oh, and be nice!
Q: How can credit unions best serve their members from diverse backgrounds?
A: Ensure that your credit union “looks and sounds” like your membership by committing to DEI hiring practices; recruit board members who also represent the full cross-section of your membership; offer volunteer time to credit union employees in organizations that support the diverse nature of your membership; create a DEI committee; create and offer products that support your diverse membership; ensure that your membership reflects the community that you serve.
Q: How do you promote diversity and inclusion within your organization or in your personal life?
A: I work hard to promote women! Having a couple of bad experiences early in my career (google the 1988 film “Working Girl”), I decided that I would be a champion for women in the credit union movement. I am pleased that several women that I have mentored are top-level executives.
I am proud that my organization has a culture that values women and supports a healthy family-life balance by recognizing that people are multi-dimensional not simply the role they play while at work.