Clockwise (from upper left): Samira Salem, CUNA; Linda Bodie, Element Federal Credit Union; Allie Braswell, VyStar Credit Union, and Amy Nelson, Point West Credit Union.

‘Wanting to do the right thing’

Panel offers four steps to a successful DEI program.

May 26, 2021

Some diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs start with a small step, while others take a larger, more formal approach. But they all have the same intent. 

“It evolves from a genuine heart of wanting to do the right thing,” says Allie Braswell, vice president, DEI, at $10 billion asset VyStar Credit Union in Jacksonville, Fla. 

Braswell and others discussed DEI programs at their credit unions, what makes them successful, and the challenges they’ve faced during “Emerging Best Practices and Lessons Learned from the Field,” a panel discussion held during CUNA’s DEI eSchool Part 2.

The panelists offer four steps to a successful DEI program:

  1. Change your mindset. Shift into listening mode to connect with others and identify what members and the community need. Point West Credit Union in Portland, Ore., changed its focus to “always learning, always on,” says Amy Nelson, CEO of the $106 million asset credit union. “We shifted our mindset to being good listeners and good stewards.”
  2. Craft policies. Develop policies and strategies that incorporate DEI. This allows the credit union to clearly articulate the goals to the rest of the organization, guide business decisions, and gain buy-in from leadership, board, and staff. Also, review and update older policies to make sure they’re inclusive.
  3. Empower employees. Involve staff in the DEI process, such as creating employee resource groups. “Create that sense of belonging for all employees and extend it into the community,” Braswell says.
  4. Listen to all. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and has different experiences. Take the time to listen. “Every one of us is unique, and it’s so important to listen to everyone,” says Linda Bodie, president/CEO of $48 million asset Element Federal Credit Union in Charleston, W. Va. “You’ll pick up little nuggets, and that’s when you can gain a better understanding.”
‘We shifted our mindset to being good listeners and good stewards.’
Amy Nelson

“There is no roadmap to this work,” says Samira Salem, CUNA’s vice president of DEI. “We’re all creating it as we go along. But we also know we may have some hiccups and challenges along the way.”

Two common challenges credit unions encounter:

  1. Gaining buy-in. Staff and volunteers may resist these efforts due to a lack of understanding. Buy-in from all levels of the organization is key. “Lack of understanding the need is probably the biggest barrier I’ve encountered,” Bodie says. “It doesn’t resonate with them why the initiative is important.”
  2. Matching the message. “If we say it, we must do it,” Braswell says. “When we say it in our community or with our employees, there’s an expectation of fulfilling it. There’s a challenge in that because you’re changing people’s belief systems. But changing the belief system creates the lasting change we want to see.”

Point West views challenges as an opportunity to continue to learn and further develop its DEI program, Nelson says.

“We view barriers as learning speed bumps,” Nelson says. “We take that speed bump and try to understand in that moment what we need to learn.”