Diverse, equitable, inclusive organizations offer ‘so much more’

March 16, 2020

CUNA News is running a series of Q&As with female leaders in the credit union movement in honor of Women’s History Month.

Pat Wesenberg is president/CEO of Simplicity CU, Marshfield, Wis. She’s a former She’s a former chair and member of the CUNA and National Credit Union Foundation Boards, and has received the CUDE designation. She has been in the credit union industry for 39 years.

Q: In honor of Women’s History Month, what does diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) mean to you?

A: I believe diversity, equity and inclusion are important because it is the right thing to do.  It provides us with the opportunity to learn and grow from others. Working with individuals from other backgrounds allows us to draw on their experiences and make better decisions.

Q: Why should DEI matter to the credit union movement?

A: Particularly in the credit union movement, DEI is important as we live our cooperative principal, particularly the principal of voluntary and open membership. We want to be inclusive to our members as well as our employees.

We want to attract the most talented individuals to work with us and to attract them we must be mindful that a diverse, equitable and inclusive organization can offer so much more to its members and team because the organization understands that diversity is a competitive advantage.

Q: Tell us about a hurdle that you overcame during your career and how it shaped your drive to succeed.

A: When I started in the credit union movement in 1981, I felt that it was a real opportunity for women. There were several female CEO’s and I was encouraged that I would one day be able to serve in that role. 

I didn’t have a college degree so I had to demonstrate that I had the leadership skills and could compete with college graduates. I worked in many different areas within the credit union to learn as much as I possibly could to prepare myself for the role of CEO. I was determined and driven to succeed in an industry that I was passionate about.

In 1994 I was given the chance and became the President/CEO. Many years later I completed my bachelor’s and MBA degrees. 

Q: What piece of advice would you give to other professionals in the credit union movement?

A: First, I would let them know that they are fortunate to work in a movement that genuinely cares about people and helping them achieve their financial goals. It is also important to appreciate how helpful their peers are.

Throughout my career I have had the opportunity to work with many individuals and have reached out for help and people are so willing to help.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help and offer a hand when someone needs your help.

Q: How can credit unions best serve their members from diverse backgrounds?

A: The most important aspect of serving members with diverse backgrounds is by demonstrating that the credit union is diverse and inclusive. The best way to do this is by putting your members at ease. Your team must take the time to learn about other cultures and understand that people are different in many ways and we need to appreciate that our differences make us unique.

Learning about other cultures is a great way to serve members from different cultures. We must celebrate differences rather than turn away from people that are different from our norms.

Q: How do you promote diversity and inclusion within your organization or in your personal life?

A: In our credit union we conduct sensitivity training through all levels of the organization. We have open discussions and work hard to hire the best people and create an inclusive work environment. We want our members to know that we care, and we have the opportunity to demonstrate this by taking the time to learn about their needs and developing products that fit their lifestyle.

Organizations must make a long-term commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, it will take time and commitment but with focus and attention it will just be part of your organizational culture.

Personally, I work hard to understand differences and try to make sure that there is a sense of belonging. I look at stereotypes and try to break them down. I often try to represent the position of those that are not in on the conversation so that we can look at another point of view.

It is important to make connections with others and ask questions so that we can understand the viewpoints of others.