Today marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, and while highlighting the time of the year in which we honor the contributions of the Latino community to the U.S., this post raises thoughts on the broader context of inclusion as a mission—namely, credit unions and their mission of being agents of change by relentless inclusion.
To be relentlessly inclusive we need to keep ourselves accountable on whether or not we are clearing a path that accelerates inclusion to all underserved, marginalized, and left-behind communities.
The recent credit union system discussion and support of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is heartening and reassuring as our boardrooms and C-suites are tilting older, whiter, and male in contrast with our memberships.
The main concern is the stark disconnect that exists between who makes the decisions on hiring, products and services, and our country’s 40% multicultural population.
This has serious implications for the long-term relevancy of credit unions. While the dialogue around DEI is needed and welcome, we now need to get past words and genuine hope to assertively act so we truly honor the movement’s maxim of people helping people.
A more diverse and inclusive system ensures we meet our movement’s full potential of providing relevant, dignified financial services access to as many people as possible—in other words, to financially include.
To honor Hispanic Heritage Month and to celebrate that serious credit union DEI action is discernably underway within the system, I can offer a few thoughts for your consideration.
1. Have deliberate curiosity. There is a direct link between curiosity and inclusion. Be curious to different perspectives to gain insights, engagement, and understanding of the talents, skills, and capacities of those who do not come from the same background or experiences as ours.
Go beyond your LinkedIn network and social circles to see aspirations and barriers. Eventually, curiosity will tap the power of diversity to unleash inclusion in the shape of more diverse teams, boards, and, as a result, more relevant products and services.
2. Expect persistent ambiguity. While we move in the financial space, where key performance indicators, clear metrics, and linear problem solving are abundant, we must concede that DEI is akin to the amorphous nature of organizational culture in all of its splendid fluidity. And so, we must quickly find the path to run the DEI journey race: literally a marathon sans a finish line.
We must embrace the DEI mindset of an ongoing, cross-functional, and never-finished work to bring to light products, services, and approaches that are accessible to and usable by as many members as reasonably possible.
3. DEI should be funded and collective. A DEI strategy without funds or organizational ownership behind it does not fly. Set the DEI effort for success by allocating specific budget and time to it. Treat it not as a side project but as a priority that comes from the top.
4. Ban check boxes. Check box-style or “quick guides to DEI” tend to assume and negate the deep meaning about people’s behavior, thoughts, beliefs, values, and lived experiences.
Using a check box to increase representation of the underrepresented unfortunately misses the point of deeply understanding and embracing differences for the genuine genesis of inclusion: the feeling of belonging and acceptance in an organization.
5. Nurture culture-add. Hiring and soliciting staff and boards for cultural fit results in new entrants who reflect and adapt to the existing corporate culture. This can be detrimental as you are not challenging the organization to grow, expand, or hire people who bring different perspectives to the table.
Culture-add looks for candidates who can thrive in the organization as it is today and help it grow tomorrow. People with diverse lived experiences invariably help the organization avoid scarcity of viewpoints, decrease the risk of passing unintended biases into products, and bring about inclusion.
Genuine, earnest, and deliberate DEI efforts will help us take advantage of our cooperative business model that actively seeks to include consumers by not asking them to adopt, assimilate to, and accommodate to products and services marginally relevant to them.
Continuing to work on DEI is to become relevant to today’s and tomorrow’s members.
Although these thoughts are far from all encompassing, they may be useful as you start a journey into understanding and including new communities. And just to offer an example, it is good to become curious about the Latino community and what it represents to your credit union.
Serving this group better requires knowing more about them. What is their country of origin? Are they predominantly U.S.-born and educated and prefer English? Or are they recent immigrants who are bilingual but prefer Spanish?
Do they live in a multigenerational household with mixed immigration statuses? Do they prefer the term Hispanic, Latino, or Latinx when describing themselves? Do they celebrate Día de los Muertos, Carnavales, 15 de Septiembre, or 8 de Diciembre? Is it tostones, patacones, or plátano frito? Inglés, Spanish, or Spanglish?
It can get nuanced and complex very quickly. Which brings me back to Hispanic Heritage Month. Rather than the traditional ways in which you have marked this celebration, what if you personally commit one hour to get curious about the Hispanic community within your field of membership?
During this hour, become familiar with Juntos Avanzamos, Coopera, and NLCUP, credit union-owned organizations that have supported the understanding of this community for decades.
As you become aware of the context, history, background, and nuance of this community, you will be equipped with knowledge that leads to empathy to try to break barriers that prevent the Latino community from taking full advantage of credit union membership.
Equally important, it will confirm that just as Hispanics need credit unions, U.S. credit unions need Hispanics to grow and thrive.
Credit unions exist for the benefit of their members. They most certainly have a higher duty than their for-profit counterparts to embrace DEI as an opportunity to include.
For them, DEI is simply good business. For credit unions and other cooperatives, DEI is—in addition to good business—vital for bringing to life the principles and values of cooperative purpose.
And to the degree in which credit unions embrace DEI, it will enhance the cooperative difference in the eyes of consumers who are all potential members.
Celebremos Juntos el Hispanic Heritage Month.
VICTOR MIGUEL CORRO, CUDE, is CEO of Coopera and chairman of the Credit Union DEI Collective.