Knowing the “why” for DEI efforts is critical to success, says Samira Salem, CUNA’s vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, Greylock Federal pursues DEI both because it’s the right thing to do and because it helps reach members who represent the credit union’s future growth.
“This approach is a lifestyle choice,” she says. “It means applying a DEI lens throughout your organization and to your products, services, and outreach to current and potential members. It requires a high level of commitment and clarity about why you’re doing this work.”
Internally, DEI creates organizations that are more diverse, more inclusive, and more equitable. Externally, DEI helps organizations have a greater impact on marginalized populations.
For example, Salem says recent evaluations of both the Coopera Hispanic Outreach program and the Juntos Avanzamos designation found credit unions that participated in these programs achieved higher growth in membership, loans, and assets than those that did not.
“It should come as no surprise that diverse and inclusive organizations are more collaborative, more innovative, and better able to avoid risks,” Salem says. “We see better team performance, customer orientation, and improved decision-making. Ultimately, becoming more diverse, equitable, and inclusive is a win-win for all.”
Diversity has been an important part of efforts to rebuild Ironworkers USA Federal Credit Union. The Portland, Ore.-based credit union increased its assets from $7.5 million in 2010 to $56 million in 2020 by broadening its base of union ironworkers across the country.
Board Chair Robert Camarillo says that as more women and workers of color join the Ironworkers Union, they want to see “people who look like them” in leadership and on the board. Achieving that at Ironworkers USA Federal meant ending traditional referrals for board seats.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done to reduce barriers and be more diverse and inclusive,” he says.
Volunteer leaders on the six-member board and four-member supervisory committee include three people of color from varied age groups, starting at age 25. Finding those talented candidates took some work but wasn’t too difficult, Camarillo says.
A more diverse board is also more willing to consider new approaches, such as loan products tailored to ironworkers’ needs, CEO Teri Robinson says. Meanwhile, Ironworkers USA Federal staff has grown from five to 10 employees, allowing Robinson to recruit two bilingual Latino employees to boost engagement among new members.
“Because we’re progressive, our board is diverse enough to understand we need to move ahead as a credit union to survive,” she says.
To ensure that diversity continues, Camarillo plans to introduce a formal DEI policy for board adoption.
Too many organizations have employees who are more wary than welcoming to diverse populations, Camarillo says. “That attitude drives a lot of people away.”
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