Creating an inclusive culture is a difficult process that takes time as leadership tries to overcome hundreds of years of systematic oppression, according to speakers at a recent CUNA e-school.
America’s culture views White middle-class values as “normal and “everything else as ‘others,’” says John Bissell, CEO of $1.3 billion asset Greylock Federal Credit Union in Pittsfield, Mass. That culture also lives in financial services, where Blacks hold less wealth, pay higher interest, are more likely to be unbanked or underbanked, and live in areas where bank closings occur more frequently. Failing to address these issues would not bode well for credit unions.
“Together we have to reprogram our culture to be inclusive to everyone,” Bissell says. “This is a matter of survival. If you’re not creating a more inclusive culture, your credit union is on a road to extinction.”
Bissell participated in “Creating an Inclusive Culture for Organization,” a webinar that’s part of CUNA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) eSchool.
To successfully implement a DEI culture and mindset, Bissell says the effort must start with the CEO, board of directors, and senior management. He suggests making this a top priority by looking at your community’s demographic data and creating a strong business case.
“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he says. “You’ll need to re-examine a lot of things about yourself, internal biases, and views on gender, race, and money.”
While embarking on a DEI journey, Bissell recommends:
► Changing everything. “Adopt a philosophy of reaching out to folks with different backgrounds and ask them questions about how to shape your culture,” Bissell says. “Make them tell us what we need to hear, even if it hurts.”
► Identifying “either or” thinking. This is a hallmark of a White-focused culture, he says, and includes questions like, “does this mean we’re hiring fewer white people?” or “what about our traditional members?”
For every change you seek to make, Bissell says there will be resistance. Zoom out and take a wider view.
“Hold what seems to be contradictory or opposing views and operate within them,” Bissell says. “Be ready to act decisively and have folks fill in the blind spots.”
► Celebrating success. Shifting to an inclusive culture is a monumental change that doesn’t happen overnight, so celebrate the little milestones along the way, whether it’s earning a designation or seeing recruitment and retention statistics for minority employees improve.
“This is a ton of work and it can be exhausting,” Bissell says. “Celebrate the successes when they happen.”
There is no toolkit to assist with DEI work, says Angela Russell, vice president of DEI at CUNA Mutual Group. Instead, aspire to create an equitable organization; create a commitment to sustaining inclusion; seek, develop, and value the talents of all team members; include all team members in decisions; co-create an organizational culture with diversity in mind; consistently act to eliminate all forms of exclusion and discrimination; and follow through.
“This work is hard, and it takes a long time,” Russell says. “Sometimes you don’t see the fruition of your work right away. But think about the seeds you’re planting, fertilizing, and watering and know that you’ll see growth in the future.”