CUNA News is running a series of Q&As with female leaders in the credit union movement in honor of Women’s History Month.
Laurie Baker is president/CEO of The Summit FCU, Rochester, N.Y. She was Villa of Hope’s inaugural “Champion of Hope” in 2017 and a finalist for Rochester Business Journal’s Athena Award in 2018. She has been in the credit union industry for 30 years.
Q: In honor of Women’s History Month, what does diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) mean to you?
A: There’s a lot of meaning and importance in those three words. Diversity is the presence of difference within a given setting, which informs viewpoints. This could include ethnicity, culture, age, gender identity, religion, abilities and more.
Equity is an approach that ensures everyone access to the same opportunities. It not only eliminates barriers, but addresses the reasons those barriers exist. Inclusion is welcoming and respecting everyone.
Q: Why should DEI matter to the credit union movement?
A: The credit union movement was founded on the same principles of access and equality. These principles are at the core of what we do today.
In a credit union, every member is an equal owner, and our purpose is to serve each member’s unique needs. Our industry is progressing and changing at lightening pace.
Keeping diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront will help us fulfil our mission and the ever-evolving needs of our members. It will also perpetuate the welcoming atmosphere we pride ourselves on.
Q: Tell us about a hurdle that you overcame during your career and how it shaped your drive to succeed.
A: I spent 13 years specializing in lending, but forced myself to step outside of that comfort zone. Doing that can be difficult, but the benefits far outweigh any short-term pain.
Being exposed to and learning about different aspects of our business and of the industry gave me a broader base of knowledge. Ultimately, that knowledge helped me gain more and more responsibility, and the opportunity to influence and lead more areas of the credit union.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to other professionals in the credit union movement?
A: My advice is to embrace volunteer opportunities within the credit union industry, and to let our “people helping people” philosophy work for you, too. Expanding your network and exposing yourself to important industry-centric issues is critical.
You can learn a lot from your peers, and in turn, your peers can learn a lot from you. Giving back is at the core of our mission, and this type of reciprocity is good for the industry.
Q: How can credit unions best serve their members from diverse backgrounds?
A: Biases create disadvantages for people, and that goes against what the credit union movement stands for. It’s important to do all we can to recognize and eliminate these biases.
Early in my career at The Summit, I saw first-hand some of the barriers people traditionally face to access financial services. We participated in a program called Wheels to Work, where people going off welfare could get car loans so that they had transportation to and from their jobs.
These were individuals who faced enormous obstacles but who wanted to support themselves.
Credit unions can be allies to people in solving some of their life challenges. Letting people know that we are here for them and are on their side- and proving that with action- can make a huge difference, one person at a time.
Q: How do you promote diversity and inclusion within your organization or in your personal life?
A: At The Summit, it’s part of our culture to welcome differences as opportunities to see various perspectives and use them to develop better solutions.
We embrace diversity, and when there are gaps in representation, we try to figure out why and what we can do to fill them. Complacency is not in our vocabulary. We’re constantly looking to improve our hiring processes and our work culture to be ever-more equitable and inclusive. Our Team Values- Respect, High Standards, Inspire, Integrity and Care- support this approach.