CUNA News is running a series of Q&As with female leaders in the credit union movement in honor of Women’s History Month.
Heather McKissick is the senior vice president, community impact for University FCU in Austin, Texas.
Q: In honor of Women’s History Month, what does diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) mean to you?
A: I’ve always appreciated that the word “equity” means “investment” just as much as it can mean fairness. When we value equity, we are not only valuing the importance of giving all people what they uniquely need to be successful, it also means we have a vested interest in doing so, because it will mean mutual success in the end.
Q: Why should DEI matter to the credit union movement?
A: Because financial health is a social justice issue, and you cannot have justice without fairness and inclusion. Treating people with fairness and equity and honoring the unique needs of each member is what credit unions were founded to do.
Q: Tell us about a hurdle that you overcame during your career and how it shaped your drive to succeed.
A: From an early age I have often been the only woman in the room. My first job out of college was working directly for the CEO of a financial institution. This was during a time when most of the women in the organization were administrative assistants, then called “secretaries,” most of whom were much older.
But instead of being jealous or impeding my success, they rallied around me, gave me the support and information I needed behind the scenes, and fueled my success.
I learned then that women helping women can be the key to success in a professional environment, and have since embraced the idea of supporting other women and helping bring the younger generation along. This approach has motivated me and made a tremendous difference in my career growth.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to other professionals in the credit union movement?
A: One of the biggest obstacles for young professionals who want to lean in to a service-oriented, not-for-profit career is the fear of not being able to get fairly paid for that work, or have opportunities for growth.
But the biggest achievers take leaps of faith and see the potential to be paid for work that aligns with their mission. I always advise others to not limit themselves in this category; if the world needs it, you are good at it and have a passion for it, there is a way.
Across the credit union movement, individuals are finding this alignment: they are discovering that they can use their skills, be passionate about member service and help the credit union solve for what their community needs ... all within the context of their day job!
Q: How can credit unions best serve their members from diverse backgrounds?
A: Focus intently on what you are there to do – listen and understand the unique needs of the members, and the communities where they live. Don’t lead with product or service, lead with your heart and your ears.
When you understand the challenges, goals and dreams of individuals from diverse backgrounds, and start with them where they ARE rather than where you want them to be, you will find the right way to meet their needs and create a lasting relationship over time.
Q: How do you promote diversity and inclusion within your organization or in your personal life?
A: As a social purpose credit union, UFCU has embraced the philosophy that when the community is strong, we are strong, and we work tirelessly to promote employee and member well-being through our products and initiatives that promote access and opportunity to affordable housing, college and good jobs.
Personally, I am an active community leader, serving on multiple not-for-profit Boards and volunteering my time and talent to causes that promote the well-being of people from a wide array of backgrounds.