Leadership: New skills for changing times

Embrace agility, transparency, and inclusivity, advises Tonita Webb.

August 21, 2021

If Rip Van Winkle had fallen asleep in February 2020 it wouldn’t take 20 years to wake to a far different world and financial services marketplace.

“We can’t just rely on select employee groups anymore,” says Tonita Webb, CEO of $732 million asset Verity Credit Union in Seattle. “Consumers have choices, and our job is to figure out how to become their choice.”

Technology is driving many industry changes, she says, making it difficult for credit unions to keep up. Infrastructure or workflow, for example, may not be adequate to meet the increased demand for online commerce and remote work. 

At the same time, credit unions face heightened expectations to address systemic issues. This requires a new set of leadership skills.

“It’s about shifting from being the smartest in the room to being the most empathetic,” Webb says. 

She believes credit union leaders need three essential qualities:

1. Agility. The ability to work under any circumstances, including learning how to coach and manage remotely, as well as re-inventing products and changing pricing on the fly.

2. Transparency. People want authentic, clear answers that reflect the truth.

3. Inclusivity. Make employees and members feel like they belong.

“Leaders need to first show up as their authentic selves, using their background to lead an organization of many different types of people and experiences,” Webb says.

“Employees of all generations are looking for authenticity and transparency,” she continues. “Leaders need to create an equitable and inclusive culture that allows employees to emulate those same qualities.”

That includes being committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), she says.

‘It’s about shifting from being the smartest in the room to being the most empathetic.’

“Employees are more socially conscious than ever before and are demanding that credit unions do better,” Webb says. “BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] employees and allies are raising their voices and shining a spotlight on how the industry is doing in the area of DEI and the need to implement DEI throughout every aspect of credit unions.”

There’s also increasing competition for talented employees from fintechs offering higher pay and generous benefits, she notes. 

DEI action steps

Webb believes creating equity is at the foundation of why credit unions were formed. “Without DEI, cooperative values and principles cannot be implemented,” she says. “Democratic member control does not exist without DEI.”

She says credit unions take the lead by making a strong commitment to DEI and backing it up with actions such as:

  • Recruiting and hiring more BIPOC people to lead and run credit unions.
  • Ensuring pay equity among all employees.
  • Examining pricing, policies, and procedures through a DEI lens and making the necessary changes to ensure true equity.
  • Adjusting products to ensure financial services are available and equitable to all.
  • Changing the narrative on how to lead through a DEI lens.
  • Focusing on BIPOC-owned business lending and increasing participation in affordable housing programs.

Webb believes credit unions are committed to the sustainable development of communities, including BIPOC communities. “Bridging the wealth gap in our country will result in a positive impact for all.”