Choosing to offer ‘the benefit of the doubt’ eases diversity conversations
Carolyn White turns uncomfortable moments into learning opportunities.
Carolyn White aims to create conversations that focus on “building up” instead of “tearing down.”
Whether White is leading diversity courses or teaching employees about the need for compliance, she gives people “the benefit of the doubt” when they ask questions or make comments about sensitive issues, which can occasionally touch on her Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage.
“Living by that philosophy has taken me a long way,” says White, who is vice president of education and communication at $1.4 billion asset CoastHills Credit Union in Santa Maria, Calif.
White’s great-grandparents were Japanese immigrants who settled in Hawaii. Her parents left Hawaii to attend college in Oregon and then accepted teaching positions in Lompoc, Calif.
In her youth, White says her parents’ high expectations for her behavior and educational performance were rooted in their AAPI heritage and the nearby AAPI community linked to Vandenberg Air Base. But at the time, she saw herself as a typical California girl who wanted to make her parents proud.
White first experienced feeling “different” due to her AAPI heritage in the 1980s when she traveled to her husband’s native state of Iowa. One Iowa resident asked how she liked the United States. White explained that she was raised in California but since she’d never been east before, driving to Iowa was interesting.
“I just found a graceful way to continue the conversation,” White says. “In the diversity class that I lead, I tell participants that a lot of problems happen in this world because people don’t give others the benefit of the doubt.
“By being compassionate and empathetic and allowing people to say things—maybe in the ‘wrong’ way—we allow people to learn from it.”
White joined CoastHills Credit Union as a part-time teller in her early 20s, then worked in consumer lending, mortgage lending, branch management, education and training, and compliance. She’s spent all but five years of her career at CoastHills.
“The philosophy and values of credit unions are what kept me in this industry,” White says. “It’s fantastic to be able to work in a movement that is all about sharing and supporting each other.”
White is an active community volunteer for Make-A-Wish, youth leadership programs, and cancer research and advocacy. Her work in the community combines the credit union philosophy of giving back with her parents’ high expectations for living a life that makes a difference.
“Do what you know is right and your life will be full,” White says.