Steps to guide your DEI journey

9 steps to guide your DEI journey

First, start with conversations about the value of increasing diversity.

April 23, 2021

Board members from three credit unions recently shared nine steps that have helped their boards pursue their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals, which they have been focusing on for more than five years. 

Step 1: Start the conversation. Begin with broad conversations about the value of increasing diversity of gender, age, ethnicity, gender identity, and other characteristics. 

“At the board level, there has to be an acceptance of diversity,” says Sheila LaBarbera, board member at $1.4 billion asset Greylock Federal Credit Union in Pittsfield, Mass. “If you don’t recognize that some type of transformation is happening—whether it’s the community or the membership you serve—then it’s disingenuous and people can see through that.” 

Step 2: Name your “why.” Credit union leaders should be able to explain why they are pursuing DEI. This is a commitment to making large-scale, enterprise-wide changes in all areas of the credit union, including talent evaluation, governance, member service, product delivery, and vendor selection. Reasons for setting DEI goals may include: 

  • Values and ethics that make DEI the right thing to do. 
  • A desire to spur growth by serving an expanding demographic group, such as recent immigrants. 
  • The need to acknowledge changing demographics within the field of membership. For example, $56 million asset Ironworkers USA Federal Credit Union in Portland, Ore., knows the youngest union ironworkers are predominantly Hispanic. 
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Step 3: Require DEI training. Training helps board members understand how community demographics are changing, how diversity contributes to growth, and how hidden biases can create systemic barriers. 

“Every person who works in Greylock’s family has engaged in a workshop or an assessment or some activity to better understand that this is a place of openness. This creates a workplace where we truly are equal,” says Ty Allan Jackson, board member. “That has to be paramount.” 

Step 4: Make a commitment. A formal commitment can lead to lasting change. It might consist of committing to the Credit Union DEI Collective Pledge to Action; adopting a diversity statement, strategy, or policy; or taking concrete steps to increase diversity and inclusion in your workplace. 

Step 5: Evaluate board size. Recognize that board size can influence diversity. After launching its DEI work, $910 million asset Seattle Credit Union gradually reduced the board from 12 members to five. Now it plans to expand the board as it continues to address its DEI goals. 

Step 6: Search for talent. Look for board members based on valued talents while increasing diversity. Seattle Credit Union created an “experience matrix” to identify board members with the right talents to enrich the board, says Board Chair Carlos Ruiz. Networking within community groups can also assist with identifying prospects who show interest in board service. 

Step 7: Build trust. Creating spaces for board members to get to know each other lays a foundation for difficult conversations. “Seeing people interact with their family is helpful in building trust and being respectful of other people’s culture and views,” says Ironworkers USA Board Chair Robert Camarillo. 

Step 8: Ask tough questions. A diverse board is more likely to ask whether products meet the needs of specific communities, whether diversity is part of hiring practices, and whether the board or the workforce reflects the community. 

Step 9: Challenge the status quo. Credit unions benefit when board members speak up about outdated practices. 

When Camarillo attends conferences, he often points out that he is the only person of color in the room. 

“I want to see credit unions become more diverse and inclusive from their boards of directors to their senior leadership,” Camarillo says. “Black, Indigenous, and people of color are still underrepresented, and we must ask why.”

This article initially appeared in Credit Union Directors Newsletter, which provides strategic insights for policymakers. Subscribe now to the print or PDF version.