Serving as the backbone of the credit union, the board of directors provides governance and sets policy, but it also can act as a catalyst for diversity. Today’s credit union directors are striving to bring more diversity to their boards.
“Diversity is a critically important issue for credit unions for a number of reasons,” says David Reed, partner at Reed & Jolly PLLC. “Credit unions exist to serve their defined membership, which often is their community. How can you serve a community unless you understand its specific needs?”
One of the best ways to achieve this goal, Reed says, is to have a board that mirrors the community.
One way to incorporate diversity is to tweak the board’s size, which is laid out in credit unions’ bylaws but can be changed through board vote.
“The board’s ability to expand its size increases the opportunity to achieve diversity,” Reed says. “This could be adding younger board members or adding more technical professionals, small business owners, or other representations they feel would better enable them to serve their community.”
Clean Energy Credit Union in Centennial, Colo., increased board diversity through voluntary resignations.
“I realized our credit union’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts needed to start with the board,” says Blake Jones, board chair at the $25 million asset credit union. “In hindsight, this helped set a positive example and tone for the entire organization.”
When the board began discussing ways to diversify, Jones says directors were “primarily white and male.” Four white male directors volunteered to step down to make room for diverse directors to succeed them.
“We were fortunate that our board understood the benefits and importance of diversifying and that we were committed to the effort, even if it required some of us to give up our board seats,” Jones says.
Over the following year, Clean Energy added three people of color to the board and one to the supervisory committee, and three of the new governance team members are women.
“Ultimately, the process was collaborative, constructive, and healthy, and the results have been fantastic,” Jones says.
Reed encourages credit unions to take a broad look at diversity, and not focus singularly on age, sex, or race, adding “there are many tools available allow boards to identify and onboard effective volunteers as soon as possible.”